By VANESSA HAMPTON
Acupuncture and dry needling are forms of alternative treatments for various conditions and pain. Because they both use small thin needles in their treatment, they are often confused. I use both forms of therapy myself as a part of my self-care. Both acupuncture and dry needling are highly effective for very different reasons and with different goals. The use of the needles is really where their similarities end.
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese Medicine and is believed to restore balance to the flow of energy (or Qi) throughout the body. Research has shown acupuncture to be effective in treating many conditions, both physical and mental, but the belief in Western medicine as to why it works is more practical in nature. The scientific belief is that it stimulates the release of certain hormones in the body which affects a change to the nervous system. Acupuncture is performed by inserting needles in certain acupuncture points throughout the body based on the condition they are treating. For instance, a problem with digestion may mean a needle in the top of the foot.
Dry needling is a more recent practice used by some health practitioners (including some physiotherapists, chiropractors, and physical therapists). The goal of dry needling is more targeted than that of acupuncture. Needles are placed at certain trigger points in the body that are associated with specific pain or immobility. These points are usually right near the origin of pain and the needles are intended to promote blood flow to this area and relax the muscle.
I became familiar with dry needling a couple of years ago while training for a half marathon. One of my calves was so tight that it was affecting my running stride and causing me knee pain. I had used foam rolling and stretching but it wouldn’t let up. I went to see my friend Megan at Voodoo Chiropractic, who is trained in and utilizes dry needling as one method of treating athletes. After evaluating my issue, she placed needles in and around my calf. It was uncomfortable initially and certain spots that she hit while inserting the needles were more sensitive than others, but it was completely tolerable. She left the needles in for about 15-20 minutes. Afterwards, I could tell an immediate difference. The previously rock-hard muscle was now soft and taking a step felt so much better. Since that time, I have had dry needling done to relax tight traps in the neck/shoulder area, as well as aid in healing a wrist injury.
As for acupuncture, it was only this year that I decided to take the plunge and try it for myself. I have been intrigued by the concept for a long time but have actually avoided it because the thought of laying on a table with a slew of needles sticking out of me slightly terrified me. However, after suffering with digestive issues and crazy hormones the last couple of years, coupled with being under a lot of stress as a business owner, I decided it was time to try it since it is known to be helpful for all of these issues.
The first time I had it done, I had been under an exceptional amount of stress from opening a second business. The Chinese Medical Practitioner placed needles at different points all over my body, but the most impactful was the one she placed on top of my head. Within moments of the needle being inserted the most bizarre thing happened. My tense jaw literally began to separate on its own. I knew I clenched my teeth when I was stressed but I honestly didn’t realize I was even doing it at the time until the tingling began, and my jaw began to relax on it’s own. The Acupuncturist told me that TMJ is a condition that acupuncture has been shown to be very effective for. It was at this point that I decided acupuncture needed to be a regular part of my self-care routine.
I am fortunate to now have found Amy at The Holistic Clinic in Franklin. I have been seeing her for treatment every 2 weeks for a few months. This last time I went 3 weeks between treatments and, interestingly enough, I could tell I just didn’t feel as good.
Amy is treating me primarily for my digestive issues and, along with her knowledge in nutrition and supplementation, has helped me more in the last 3 months than any other doctors have in the last 2.5 years. She is also treating me for hormonal balance and general stress. With each visit, I am able to relax more in my hour session and really feel like I am getting even more cumulative benefit.
To sum it up, acupuncture and dry needling are both valuable tools in self-care. What works for each person varies but, if you are doing like I was and avoiding the needles because of the thought of it, don’t. The potential benefits greatly out weight the moment of discomfort. Here’s to the power of the tiny little needle!