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Dry Needling: Pain Relief The Natural Way

Leah Hamoy
September 07, 2022
Patient receiving dry needling treatment on stomach.

One of the most common questions I get asked about dry needling is: “Is it the same as acupuncture?” The simple answer is, no, they are not the same thing, though both claim to help with pain. Let’s just say your doctor recommends one as an alternative way to relieve pain — how do you decide which one is right for you? Let’s delve deeper into each method and compare them.

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture is an ancient practice originating from East Asia that has been around for at least 2,000 years. According to the Acupuncture Now Foundation (ANF), “Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine wires (needles) into specific spots to stimulate the body to heal itself. Traditional acupuncture involves improving the flow of qi (‘vital air/energy’ and referred to as Ki by the Japanese). It also includes balancing yin and yang, a paradigm of health and disease that maps very closely to the Western concept of homeostasis, which is the balance of ratios of water and minerals, body temperature, and chemical levels. In addition, by stimulating specific points on the body with heat, pressure, or very fine needles, acupuncture practitioners can restore healthy function, thus resolving symptoms and reversing disease.”

What is dry needling?

Dry needling is the insertion of fine needles similar to those used in acupuncture, but this is where the similarities stop. According to a literature review conducted by David Legge, the term “dry needling” came about from the need to provide a contrast to the injection of a fluid through a hypodermic syringe (now sometimes referred to as wet needling). Rather than injecting a substance, dry needling is merely the insertion of a needle.

The history of dry needling

The history of dry needling is linked with the search for effective treatment of painful musculoskeletal disorders. In particular, the research into the use of injections to both cause and relieve pain in muscular tissue led to the development of trigger point theory and the use of dry needling as a treatment. Legge’s research also led him to the important clinical finding that the simple dry needling of tender points could produce profound and long-lasting musculoskeletal pain relief. This caused little interest in the broad academic or clinical community until the focus on acupuncture in the 1970s.

Since 2000, there has been a surge in academic interest in dry needling, and its use has expanded into the allied health professions of physiotherapy, osteopathy, and chiropractic.

In dry needling, the needle insertion can create a twitch response in the muscle to help promote relaxation. There is no use of energy flow or meridians like acupuncture. Physical therapists do not use dry needling to address fertility, smoking cessation, allergies, depression, or non-neuro-musculoskeletal conditions.

Leah Hamoy, Physical Therapist 
Leah Hamoy is a physical therapist at MUSC Health – Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in Florence, SC.

As both a certified physical therapist and a patient of dry needling, I know that it works. The majority of my patients report relief lasting from days to weeks to months.

Dry needling is not a cure-all by any means, but this is a great tool to help naturally manage pain.

If you are considering dry needling for pain relief or would like more information, visit Florence Medical Center Outpatient Physical Therapy or call 843-661-4360.