“Dry Needling” vs. Acupuncture

I had a gentleman ask me last week if I had heard of “dry needling” and if I ever did it. I was flabbergasted… Dry needling is what acupuncture is called when non-acupuncturists do it. Wait – that’s not quite right. It’s what using acupuncture needles is called when someone else does it… but that doesn’t make it acupuncture. True acupuncture requires an understanding of a complex system, while most “dry needling” courses are surprisingly brief.

When comparing acupuncturists vs other practitioners as providers of therapeutic needling, some interesting things come to light. I feel very strongly that the various types of medical providers each have their areas of expertise. A bad injury, a serious infection, and organ failure are just a few of the problems that would send me running to “Western” modern medicine. But in some cases – chronic pain, healing after an injury, neurological repair, anxiety, etc. – acupuncture is highly effective. So….Why not just have your doctor do it?

There are some advantages to doctors doing acupuncture. First, they have a more extensive knowledge of anatomy than the average acupuncturist. I was very lucky to get to work with cadavers when I was at chiropractic school – most don’t. Secondly, the procedure is more likely to be covered by health insurance.

Unfortunately, there are also some disadvantages. Doctors are usually MDs first, and have taken a seminar on acupuncture. This course is a few weekends of instruction. They learn a handful of “recipe” points that are based on symptoms. Some people doing “dry needling” are physical therapists or chiropractors. As a comparison, I have a Master’s degree from OCOM, which consisted of 3,344.5 total hours, including 996 clinical hours. I learned about the Zang Fu organs, the channels, and the 1000 points and how they interact.

Doctors usually don’t spend much time getting to know every detail of your medical history. They tend to have 10 minutes for the whole appointment, and focus purely on your “chief complaint” as we call it in medicine: the main reason you came in. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is holistic. I prefer to take an hour with my patients. We examine the entire body, not just an isolated part, and our diagnosis is dependent upon that global perspective. For example, you may have a headache due to Liver* Yang Rising, or Qi deficiency, or a Wind Invasion. Or look at it from the other direction: A single diagnosis, such as Kidney Yin Deficiency, can cause varied symptoms like menstrual irregularity, anxiety, vertigo, night sweats… you see the problem. This is why I ask all those rude questions (sorry) in a 10 page form when you come in. What your menstrual cycle is like can actually help me determine how to treat your digestive disorder.

When doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapists use dry needling, especially for internal medicine, their results are not as strong as when a TCM trained practitioner wields the needles. I see this in a lot of research studies that “prove” acupuncture “doesn’t work.” It’s roughly equivalent to testing antibiotics for a runny nose, without separating out bacterial infections from viruses and allergies, then claiming that pharmaceutical drugs aren’t effective.

In this article, a doctor writes about needling. The myofascial part is spot on, but he’s missing the energetic component. Some of the points work on areas far away from where the needle goes! LI-4 and LV-3 are beautiful examples of powerful points that don’t really make sense with the Western understanding of anatomy. If distal points like the hands, feet, scalp and ears are neglected, the treatment may be weaker than ideal. It’s something to think about when comparing someone offering dry needling vs a true acupuncturist.

People with only basic anatomy training like massage therapists, and physical therapists doing dry needling? Super bad idea – and the reason there are so many news stories about dry needling pneumothorax (collapsed lung) problems created by physical therapists. Acupuncture needles are controlled as a medical device, because they really shouldn’t be used by amateurs.

Dry needling is a bad idea, m'kay?

Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., agrees that TCM training should be comprehensive.

*Remember that in Chinese medicine, capitalized organs are energetic concepts and should not be confused with your anatomical organs.

Yin Tang (emotional balancing, anxiety, sinus issues)

Yin Tang (pronounced “Yin Tong”) is located directly between the inner borders of your eyebrows. It’s useful for treating sinus problems and frontal headaches, but it’s most often called upon to calm the Shen (spirit). If you are anxious or dealing with stress, you’ll know why it’s also referred to as “The Valium Point.”

Yin TangOther cultures have recognized the importance of this point. It’s close to (below) the “Third Eye” and the 6th Chakra of Indian traditions. In the short-lived TV show Eli Stone, the title character experienced visions when his acupuncturist needled him on the forehead … a little too high, unfortunately (I’m sure I’m not the only acupuncturist who wrote to them – after a while they obscured the actual insertion location with the actor’s hands). Anyway, I wouldn’t expect to start seeing visions, but it will definitely help you find some inner peace.

To use Yin Tang, simply press with a fingertip for about 10 seconds. Take a deep breath, be grateful you’ve backed up your computer, and smile. Don’t you feel better already?

 

An ideal world

Do you know what you would do with your life, your career, your romantic situation in an ideal world? Do you have that mental list of things you’ll do when things get
better? Calm down? Settle? You know, life will be so much better when things get organized, when the student loans are paid, when the health scare passes, when the kids get just a little bit older.
It’s easy to think about what we would do “in an ideal world.” Unfortunately, such a world does not currently exist. That much is obvious, even to me. What’s less obvious, though, is that the ideal world will never actually exist.
We like to think about that because it gives us hope. Life as we know it is usually so crazy and stressful that we need hope to hold on to, if for no other reason than to believe that
life won’t always be like this. The trouble is, life will always be like this. If it’s not like this, then it will be like that – there’s always something! If things calm down in one area, they will un-calm themselves in another.
With that in mind, you have two choices. You can continue to stress yourself out, and postpone your happiness. Or you can choose to relish the good stuff you have right now. Focus on what really matters. I’m not saying you should blow off going to the office to eat marshmallows and smoke weed every day. I’m saying you should take a moment to enjoy time with your friends, the delicious food you are eating right now, the small achievements and successes in your day. Go for a walk. If something is making you crazy, ask yourself if it’ll matter in 5 years. Will anyone even remember this? If not… let it go, emotionally. By all means get to work and solve the problem, but don’t allow it to disturb your soul. Some problems are legitimate nightmares, of course. This is doubly true for them: You have to hang on to the positive or the negative will swallow you whole.
If you practice this, pretty soon you find you are living in something closely resembling that ideal world. Not a perfect one, but a happy one. :)

Shenmen (stress, depression, mental illness)

Shenmen (Spirit Gate)

There are about a hundred points on the ear, including this integral part of any stress or mental illness treatment. It reflects the seat of mental health and is terrific for treating any kind of anxiety, depression, grief, or just a rough day. Give your buddy (or yourself!) an ear massage as a sure-fire way to calm things down. This article discusses a study that shows acupuncture is highly effective for depression, and Shenmen is an essential part of that protocol.

 

Shenmen, a lovely way to calm someone down. Try a gentle massage when your driver is experiencing road rage.

 

 

Press firmly for 10-20 seconds with a healing intention.