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Acupuncture VS Dry Needling


Acupuncture is a 3000 year old medicine based originally from China. The theory is based on the flow of energy through meridians which has mapped out through 12 channels of energy through the body. Each meridian corresponds to a different organ and has specific points selected for treatment. Some points open the chest, others calm the mind, some relax tendons or open the spine, but each point has it’s own use due to the location, channel it is on and the studies done to confirm its effect on the overall energy flow of the body.

Acupuncture evaluations includes in depth questioning on lifestyle, nature of pain, diet, sleep, digestion and a practitioner always looks at the tongue coating and feels the persons left and right pulses to determine how the body is reacting to injury. The goal with acupuncture is to find the root cause of the disease or pain and treat the root so the body can overcome this and not have reoccurring injuries.

Root causes may be something wrong with a meridian, or something wrong with a specific organ that is affecting the meridian and causing a stasis of circulation at a specific area.


A licensed acupuncturist will have 3-4 years of schooling I have 2,850 hours of school, including 795 clinical training hours working with patients, 150 practitioner mentoring hours from the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Acupuncturists also are required to take special courses in OSHA standards for clean needling and preventing the spread of disease when needling. Each area of the body has a different depth which is safe to needle, which is why acupuncture has so many different types of needles, much of the schooling for an acupuncturist is going over proper depth to avoid lungs and organs in the body. I have an additional 300 hours of sports medicine acupuncture training to treat common orthopedic disorders and pains, which goes in depth as to which organs, systems, and acupuncture points are needed to heal these injuries and pains.


When treating pain and injuries acupuncture looks into which organs in the body may be affected: in our medicine the Spleen controls the muscles, Liver and Gallbladder controls the tendons, and Kidneys control the bones. These organs all have their own meridians which acupuncture points lie on, often times the pain is located on one of these points or channels.

Acupuncture will also look at the change to circulation and blood flow in the area of pain, and most importantly how the body responds to this injury. Being through: cramping, swelling, lack of range of motion etc.

A proper acupuncture treatment will then include manual muscle testing to identify channels and muscles affected by the pain the patient is feeling, and orthopedic evaluations to rule out or confirm referral pain from other areas of the body, along with postural assessments, stretching, soft tissue and joint mobilization, manual massage or tissue release and corrective exercises.


Acupuncturist keep several different lengths of needles on hand. Many of our points we reach with short needles, and we have longer ones available for muscular areas such as the glutes. In acupuncture we try to achieve a Qi sensation with each point, this sensation is felt under the trained acupuncturist fingertips when the needle is inserted and the body starts to realize it is there. It takes hundreds of hours of practice on the practitioner’s part to feel the arrival of this energy at the needle tip, because we try to feel for the most subtle change of energy underneath our hands. Once energy is brought to the area of the needle, the body is now creating circulation in that area, and there is no need in acupuncture to get an aggressive stimulation for qi arrival. The Qi sensation can have several different feelings, ranging from a dull ache around the point, tingling in the area, bouncing or shaking of the needle. Acupuncture can be a very gentle treatment.


Dry needling is a certification course that physical therapists and chiropractors can take in a weekend often 14-30 hours. It includes teaching the needling of trigger points, which are hyper-sensitive areas on the body that feel pain, the painful area is due to a pathology, which in Chinese Medicine the pathology and painful areas are what are treated.


Dry needling is often thought to go deeper than an acupuncture needle. While this is the thought, dry needling uses acupuncture needles which are designed to go that deep, they do not make special “dry needles” that go deeper than an acupuncture needle. As explained above though, many of our acupuncture points are reached without deep needling because the space between the skin and muscle has been shown to be more proprioceptive and have a great effect on the continuous fibers that extend from fascia to other muscles. The technique of dry needling is to create a muscle spasm and grab onto the needle, which is often explained as very painful by people who have experienced it.


While thought to be used interchangeably dry needling and acupuncture are very different in theory and technique. If you are suffering from injury or pain a licensed acupuncturist is an excellent option to get to the bottom of your pain. Along with treatment I have found prescribing herbal medicine for decreasing inflammation, increasing circulation, and stopping pain to be very beneficial, and increase the speed of recovery. There are many acupuncturist that specialize in sports medicine which are an excellent options for treating injuries and pain.


When I first started acupuncture school, I ruptured my L-4/5 in my lower back. It was extremely painful to do anything from reaching for shampoo, tying my shoes, or driving. My chiropractor's did an excellent job referring me for imaging and making sure they understood what injury had occurred in my body.

I started getting regular chiropractic treatments to help with my structure, which included some dry needling of tender points in the QL muscle on my low back. The dry needling was very painful, but I did get relief around the few days of the treatments.

I then began getting acupuncture treatments twice a week from a teacher of mine who treated the root cause of my back pain. I had excellent relief from acupuncture, my range of motion increased, the pain went away on the table, I began to be able to exercise again and strengthen my core with prescribed exercises, my sleep had improved, my stress which had brought on the onset of my injury had decreased and I was starting to heal.

Included with my acupuncture session, I was sent home with herbal medicine to help stop the pain and heal my back, and ear needles that corresponded to the brain signals to pain, low back area, and nerve signals to push on and extend treatments.

I continued the acupuncture for 8 weeks: the sessions included massage and needles were placed in my feet, legs, low back, local pain area, hands, and head. Acupuncture has specific points to open the spine, relax tendons, and increase circulation to the injured tissue. After 8 weeks of acupuncture I was in NO pain, had full range of motion, and did not need surgery.

I have continued to go back for acupuncture treatments only each month or two when I start to feel my back ache or have other issues.

Acupuncture saved my back from surgery, my practitioner focused on the reason why my back was vulnerable to injury in the first place and now I am set up to have a healthy pain free back even though my disc is still ruptured and herniated. Had I only had local aggressive needling in the area of my spine, I would have never been able to overcome my body’s weaknesses and further improve my health. I highly recommend acupuncture for anyone suffering from pain, it can take a few weeks to "peel back the layers of the onion" and work out the years of damage you've put into your body, it was well worth saving myself from surgery and a lifetime of fixed movement from a disc fusion.

720-299-5919 Colorado: Englewood (DTC) and Fort Collins

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