The Fuss, Facts and Risks of Dry-Needling


You may have heard your physical therapist, chiropractor or physician talk about dry-needling; according to them it is nothing like acupuncture- “one was created thousands of years ago and the other was only adopted in the last few decades. One is designed to relieve pain, discomfort, or issues by opening up a person’s qi. The other is designed to stimulate “trigger points,” or muscles that are irritable.” This is an alarmingly misleading and uninformed description of acupuncture. We routinely use points known as “ashi” (ah-sure) which are located in tender areas in muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments- sometimes off of the channels, sometimes not.

So what is the difference between dry needling and acupuncture? In practice, there isn’t one. Targeting trigger points with acupuncture needles is one of the many techniques a licensed acupuncturist could use to address your pain. But, in training, there is a big one…

The Facts
Dry-needling certification programs are unaccredited weekend courses made up of 50 hours of combined lecture and hands on practice; many do not require supervised patient treatments or competency testing.
Licensed acupuncturists are trained under programs overseen by the U.S Department of Education with over 700 hours of hands on practice- this does not include the hundred of hours learning diagnosis, channel theory, acupuncture technique, etc. Licensed acupuncturists are required to have a minimum of 250 supervised hours needling patients and must pass one or more national board exams prior to licensure.

The Risks
The risks of dry-needling are predictable given the tremendous difference in hours of hands-on training. Aggressive and untrained needling of areas in pain can cause the area to get retraumatized leading to more pain and excessive bruising and soreness. Needling angles, depths and technique are of vital importance in some areas of the body- especially over the ribcage and lungs. Untrained needling of some muscles can lead to pneumothorax (lung collapse) and can even injure other organs such as the kidneys and liver. These risks are nearly eliminated when acupuncture is performed by a licensed acupuncturist who receives 4 years of training in the art and science of needling.

Why BAC Goes The Distance
Here at the Boise Acupuncture Co-op we can treat everything through the points in the lower legs, forearms, feet, hands, head, neck, and ears. That’s right EVERYTHING! And we can do so because of how the body is designed.

There are several different styles of acupuncture. Our practitioners primarily practice “distal acupuncture”, also known as meridian acupuncture or balance method acupuncture. Distal acupuncture means we use points that are located further down the limbs, or away from the pain/problem area.  We do this for several reasons:

  1. The area of pain will not get further injured by needling. Acupuncture is placing needles into the body. And sometimes when the body/area is inflamed like right after an injury we do not want to go shoving a foreign object into that area. It doesn’t feel good, and it can potentially cause more damage. So we help the body heal by using points away from the injury.
  2. You’ll get faster results.  This happens because distal points send messages to the body via the nervous system and acupuncture pathways. Those points release natural painkillers such as enkephalins, beta endorphins, norepinephrine, acetylcholine and by simply increasing blood flow. The areas further away from the trunk of the body have more nerve endings. And the nerve endings are what pick up those messages and send them up to the brain to tell the body what to do.  This study found that distal acupuncture was better at treating neck pain then local acupuncture!
  3. No need to get naked.  Thanks to distal acupuncture, you don’t need to bare all- that’s right most of the time everyone is fully dressed. Sometimes we might adjust clothing a little, roll up sleeves & pant legs.
  4. The method.  Certain acupuncture points have specific uses or jobs. The points with the most jobs are distal points. One point, say in the hand can have several functions and be able to treat a dozen different health concerns. This is in part due to the nervous system but also because of the Acupuncture pathways (aka “meridians”). Licensed acupuncturists are trained to distinguish the difference between the points, meridians, diseases/conditions, and how the patient presents. They take that information and treat the patient accordingly.
  5. It’s our job.  And lastly, if we weren’t doing what our patients were paying us to do we wouldn’t be here.  BAC is committed to our mission and committed to providing relief. We will do what is best for our patients first and foremost.