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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 25-50 hours of combined lecture and hands on practice; many do not require supervised patient treatments or competency testing. Most do not require Clean Needle Technique training.


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 hundreds of hours learning diagnosis, channel theory, acupuncture technique, etc. Licensed acupuncturists are required to have a minimum of 250 supervised hours needling patients, must pass one or more national board exams, and be properly trained in Clean Needle Technique 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 re-traumatized 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 rib-cage 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 over 700 hours of training in the art and science of needling.

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