Acupuncture Blog

The MAS Dry Needling Primer

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Similar to how CBD has very recently captured the collective imagination, Dry Needling (DN) has made a dent in the collective cultural awareness over the past few years, mostly via adoption into physical therapy and chiropractic practices.

Nowadays, the staff at MAS is asked fairly frequently about dry needling, so we've put together a small amount of information about it from our collective perspective. We offer this as experienced licensed acupuncturists, who've both employed and received dry needling, and from our experience from speaking to dozens of people who've also received DN, mainly outside of MAS.

Our definition: Dry needling involves repeated needling directly into knotted muscle fibers, each time causing a twitch in said knot, for the purpose of ultimately coaxing it to become exhausted and release.

A few things we'd like to get out of the way, up front.

First things, first: dry needling is an acupuncture technique, called 'trigger point' needling in different circles. The term 'dry' was apparently attached to the technique when adopted by medical professionals to distinguish it from a prevailing needling technique performed with a hollow hypodermic that would be used to inject various substances into the flesh.

First things, second: At MAS, we want lots of people to get acupuncture. In light of this, we support people getting acupuncture in all forms - including dry needling - as readily and affordably as is possible for them. We understand this is not a popular opinion in our profession, but we stand by it.

...and third: We have not and likely will not offer dry needle/trigger point needling at MAS. There are several reasons for this, one of which is we normally don't find the technique any more effective than the distal-needling we primarily employ. Also, more than any particular technique, receiving treatment as often as is appropriate clinically, is the factor most closely related to feeling better in our experience.

You may have heard Maslow's Law of the Instrument: if the only tool you have is a hammer, you'll see the world like a nail.  DN reminds us of this notion. Repeatedly and directly needling into a muscle knot is one way of approaching helping to resolve the knot via acupuncture needle, but it certainly isn't the only one. 

Alternately, one could choose to stimulate strategically connected acupuncture points further away from the muscle knot. These can be effectively employed like the light switch on the wall controls the lights on the ceiling. In addition, this approach will eliminate the likelihood of the great soreness after a treatment as compared to the DN approach. It's also our preference to do so as a tremendously more gentle means to an end.

Just like the piano is a tool that can played in many ways, the acupuncture needle can be employed in distinctive ways as well. You wouldn't expect all pianists to tickle keys in the style of Fats Domino, right? In the same way, MAS acupuncturists aren't limited to a heavy-handed direct-needling techniques either.  While these can be effective, no doubt, they simply aren't always going to be the best choice across a broad array of clinic situations, from our perspective.

A few other thoughts to share...

Dry needling is normally felt much more intensely than most other acupuncture techniques. So if you've had DN done in past and are thinking, "that's what acupuncture feels like", hold that thought. You may surprised at how softer different approaches can feel, while providing good results.

To the folks who have been left to wonder if they can receive acupuncture at MAS when they've had DN alongside at their PTs office, Yes, please come on in and grab acupuncture treatments. As we normally aren't directly needling locally (ie. where the target pain is located), treatments at MAS will not further test the area needled with DN. Just the opposite, in fact, where a reduction in inflammation via movement of blood and body fluids aims to ease local soreness and pain.

Not all approaches will hit the spot for every person. If distal acupuncture techniques haven't done the trick after a course of treatment, DN may be a good choice. Some folks do well with a more passive approach, others more direct. For our part, we never want to see you stuck on a hamster wheel, just spinning in place. Any referral that we feel would be of benefit for you in your goals, we are most happy to make. This happens regularly at MAS, where we are grateful for many outstanding providers of many stripes, in and around southern NH.




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