Dry Needling vs. Acupuncture

Photo by Antonika Chanel on Unsplash

CC asks: “Can you tell me if ‘dry needling’ is a New Age practice?  I have heard a couple of people mention having had it done by their physicians in recent months and had never heard of it.”

Dry needling, also called biomedical acupuncture, is actually very different from acupuncture and is not based on the insertion of needles in traditional acupuncture meridian sites.

According to a Blue Cross/Blue Shield policy statement on dry needling, this treatment involves the insertion of a needle at a “trigger point” in the body, such as those that occur in skeletal muscles that produce pain. These trigger points are often associated with tension headaches, tinnitus, and pain in the joints or lower back. A dry needle is inserted into the trigger point directly instead of into the meridians (alleged energy centers) prescribed by traditional Chinese medical practitioners of acupuncture.  Dry needling uses the same type of acupuncture needle – a solid, round point, small gauge needle.

Although not associated with acupuncture, the main problem with dry needling is that it lacks scientific credibility.

“To date, the studies have not demonstrated a statistical or a clinical benefit for dry needling. Additional RCTs (randomized controlled trials), especially those with a sham-control group, would strengthen the evidence base. The evidence is insufficient to determine the effects of the technology on health outcomes.” Blue Cross writes.

It is therefore considered to be “experimental/investigational” and is not covered by this insurance provider.

According to Dr. Yuan-tao Ma, the author of a textbook on dry needling for physical therapists, this modality was first developed in the 1940’s by Janet Travell, M.D., a medical advisor to the White House during JFK’s administration. He and other proponents of the practice claim it is based on modern neurological research that suggests acupuncture treatments may work based on the release of pain-relieving endorphins or through nerve stimulation. While this is an intriguing and very plausible concept, it has yet to be demonstrated to a clinically relevant degree.

Christians should approach dry needling with caution. Although it is not acupuncture, it is often promoted by practitioners of Chinese acupuncture. In addition, its efficacy is not supported by evidence-based science.

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