I've been putting off writing this article for a long time, mostly because it's such a currently controversial topic. But I've done quite a bit of research and contemplating on the subject and feel as though it would be beneficial to put my ideas down on paper to better understand it myself, and hopefully educate a few others. This is also my official warning that this article is entirely opinion based. The facts that I state are true, but in the end, the bias undeniably comes from my personal opinion.
WHAT IS DRY NEEDLING?
Dry needling is generally described as inserting filament (thin) needles into trigger points in various muscles to reduce muscular pain, also known as intramuscular stimulation. Essentially physiotherapists and various medical doctors or chiropractors are inserting needles into trigger points to release a tight muscle and relieve pain.
The first problem I see with dry needling is the education. For western doctors to be able to practice dry needling, all they need to do is take a weekend course and obtain a certificate. If any of you don't know, Acupuncturists study anywhere from three to four YEARS to obtain a license (and masters degree) in order to insert needles into patients. Although physiotherapists, medical doctors, and chiropractors may be well versed in musculature knowledge, there is infinite knowledge of the actual art of inserting needles that could never be close to covered in one weekend. Physiotherapists and chiropractors are only qualified to practice manual therapies. Inserting needles into a patient's muscle tissue is undoubetedly invasive and not purely manual by any means.
Chinese medicine practitioners have these points called "ashi" points. It basically means you insert the needle where it hurts to be pressed, aka trigger points. However those practicing dry needling insist that only dry needlers know of inserting needles into the part of the muscle where it hurts, completely ignoring the fact that Acupuncturists have been doing the exact same thing for thousands of years. It has been scientifically prove that 91-99% of the points dry needlers use are the same ones as Acupuncturists (1).
The needles used for dry needling have the exact same structure, material, size, and width of Acupuncture needles. Basically, they are using Acupuncture needles (which were obviously around first). I am not against those practicing dry needling using Acupuncture needles, but if they are using needles equivalent to Acupuncture, then they should be certified in Acupuncture. The reason these needles are labeled differently is because phyiostherapists, chiropractors, MDs, and naturopaths are not legally allowed to purchase Acupuncture needles (only Acupuncturists can). But it is highly debatable if they can even be classified as different tools. Practicing Acupuncture is out of the scope of practice of physiotherapists, naturopaths, chiropractors, and other medical doctors, and thus should be illegal (as it is in some states in the US).
It is damaging to the field of modern Acupuncture and Chinese medicine. If a practitioner of Western medicine is allowed to practice a technique similar or even equivalent to Acupuncture after just a weekend course, it defeats the purpose of real Acupuncturists attending 3-4 long, difficult years of school and going tens of thousands (sometimes even a hundred thousand) dollars in debt to truly master a healing technique. If a patient receives a painful and damaging dry needling session from a chiropractor that does more harm than good, do you think they would be willing to try it again? Even if an Acupuncturist could provide a painless and comforting treatment?
THE ENERGETIC COMPONENT
One of my biggest concerns is the fact that people practicing dry needling are completely oblivious to the energetic aspect of inserting needles at actual acupuncture points. TCM students study the energetic, emotional, and spiritual components of these points for years through text and clinical study, all of which is impossible to learn through a weekend course. A commonly understood aspect of traditional Chinese medicine, is that the goal is to bring harmony of yin, yang, qi, and blood into the body. Inserting dozens of needles into one tiny area of the body without concern for the rest of the body is completely denying the holistic aspect of the therapy, and could possibly bring out energetic imbalance. Not to mention, it is highly doubtful the dry needler is paying attention to the direction the needle is being inserted into the patient's body in relation to the Chinese meridian. Acupuncturists know that if you insert the needle in the directional flow of the meridian, it is strengthening the functions of the point, and if you insert the needle in the opposite direction, you are purging excess yin or yang. A physiotherapist, chiropractor, naturopath, or medical doctor could inadvertently cause a tremendous disharmony to the body purely based on the angle of insertion of the dry needles.
IS DRY NEEDLING SAFE?
Physiotherapists and chiropractors are not legally allowed to use therapeutic tools to penetrate the surface of the skin. However in just 20-72 hours, they can acquire a certificate that states they are allowed to. Can one truly understand the implications of inserting fine needles through muscle tissue in that short of time? Some states in the US, such as California, New York, and Florida actually legally prohibit physiotherapists from practicing dry needling. There must be legal justification as to why this is - a justification that is purely trying to protect the health of the patient. In some states dry needling isn't even regulated.
MY ADVICE TO YOU
RESEARCH. Is the state/country you are living in regulating dry needling? Is it difficult for you to access a licensed acupuncturist of practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine? How long has this practitioner been practicing dry needling? A week? 8 years? What kind of treatment are you looking for? Don't have insurance coverage for Acupuncture or TCM? There are many student clinics and community Acupuncture clinics with affordable prices.
Physiotherapists and chiropractors are only qualified to practice manual therapies. Inserting needles into a patient's muscle tissue is undoubtedly invasive and not purely manual by any means, making dry needling entirely out of their scope of practice. In my opinion, there is a greater chance of damage to tissue, organs, and nerves if someone unprepared or licensed is blindly inserting one to six inch long needles into your body. My greatest concern is public safety and health. I would like to reiterate again, this article is entirely based on my own opinion, experience, and research with Acupuncture and dry needling. I am not trying to dictate the actions and opinions of other people, but purely to educate them on the facts of these two therapeutic techniques.
If you have anymore questions feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit me at my Acupuncture school's student clinic. Click here for information.