You may have walked or visited our clinic recently and noticed that we were offering “dry needling,” a treatment that looks an awful lot like acupuncture and is growing in popularity.
And while some acupuncturists don’t see much harm (kind of) in sharing their craft with less trained, Western practitioners—a difference of 27-plus hours and 800 practice runs for dry needling and four years plus robust internships for acupuncturists—others are very concerned about the health and safety of those getting the prickly treatment, as well as what this means for the future of acupuncture.
You could say a war a brewing among healers, and it has its factions.
According to physiotherapists, though, the training is part of a well-established repertoire. “I’m not a dry needler, I’m a doctor of physiotherapy,” says Michigan-based Edo Zylstra. He’s also the founder of KinetaCore, the company that trains somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of the physiotherapists getting certified in dry needling nationwide.
“Being trained in dry needling is just a tool in my toolbox, along with other effective treatments like manipulation, correctional exercises and modalities like e-stim, hot packs, correctional functional exercise, and lasers. Dry needling allows physical therapists to be the most effective in returning patients to a higher functional and pain-free life ,” Zylstra says.
What is it and is it safe? Keep reading for everything you need to know about dry needling.
What is dry needling and Is it safe? Keep reading for everything you need to know about dry needling.
Photo: Stocksy/Julien L. Balmer
So what is dry needling, really?
Dry needling is a myofascial trigger point practice that was born in the 1940s when doctors discovered that applying hypodermic needles into a source of a patient’s muscular pain could provide relief. “Physicians noticed that muscles would fasciculate, then relax,” explains Jill Blakeway, a licensed acupuncturist and the founder of Manhattan’s YinOva Center.
Currently, dry needling and acupuncture look fairly similar in practice, but not in the theory behind them. Acupuncturists insert needles into “meridiens that are believed to be the body’s energy pathways,” according to Blakeway. Dry needling inserts very similar needles directly into muscles, or trigger points, until they twitch, signaling that the relief process is beginning.
Photo: Thinkstock/Katarzyn Abialasiewicz
Why are people into it?
The practice has gained more popularity due to adoption from everyone from runners with injuries to the NFL for its pain relief, hastened recovery, improvements in functional movement, and the uptick of courses that train PTs to be licensed in dry needling. It’s currently a legal practice for physiotherapists everywhere in the United States except California, New York, Utah, Idaho, Florida, and Hawaii.
“Dry needling is probably one of the most impacting medical techniques to hit rehabilitation and recovery for years, without having the side effects of medications, surgery, and other methods,” says Zylstra.
But acupuncturists say the relief is topical—and temporary. “It’s only treating the symptom of the pain, without discovering why it’s happening,” says Blakeway. “Dry needling is like taking an aspirin to make your headache go away instead of finding out whether it’s a tension headache, or you’re dehydrated.”
Photo: Thinkstock/Andrey Popov
How safe is it?
Acupuncturists say that dry needling turns a noninvasive procedure in a physiotherapy session into an invasive one.
“Our goal is absolute safety,” says Jim from Bankstown Physotherapy, who sits on two task forces focusing on dry needling competency and safety. “Dry needling is invasive, but very minimally so. Physiotherapists have training in the muscular skeletal system throughout their schooling that most doctors don’t even get, unless they’re orthopedists.”