Acupuncture vs. Dry Needling: A Therapy for Neck and Back Pains

For a while now, I have been experiencing back pains specifically around my shoulder blades. People say that this is because I keep on carrying a heavy backpack and I carry it around with me for a good part of the day. If this were the case, then why wasn’t my lower back hurting? And then other people started telling me that maybe it was due to having tensed and overworked back muscles. When I mentioned having neck pains too, they claim that having tensed muscles contribute to not having proper blood circulation going to the neck. Hence, my neck keeps on hurting. 

It reached a point that the pain was intolerable already and the frequent massages were not taking effect anymore. At first, I thought massages would help ease the tension on my back, but after a while the pain seemed to stay.

This is when a friend of mine suggested trying acupuncture or dry needling. Not knowing anything about them (I assumed they were one and the same), I started looking for Chinese acupuncture in Melbourne. After a while, I realized that the two were different forms of therapy and there was a big difference between acupuncture and dry needling

Acupuncture has its roots in China. Ancient China believed in the balance, like the yin and yang. In the same way, they believe that in every body, there should be a balance of chi. Chi is the energy of life present in all living creatures including plants and animals. This chi flows all throughout the body along pathways. These pathways are called meridians and this is where needles are inserted when someone goes through acupuncture. 

The process of acupuncture is just like sticking needles. The needles are inserted on the meridians where the flow of chi is disrupted. After they are left for 15-30 minutes, the needles are removed and the flow of chi will start to normalize. The therapy itself is not painful except for the first part where the needles are being inserted. They say that you will feel a tingling sensation, but it will immediately go away once you relax. 

On the other hand, dry needling did not originate in China. In fact, it originated in the west around the 1980’s. Unlike acupuncture, this procedure does not believe in chi. Instead, their basis for sticking needles in certain places is that those places are trigger points with neuro-muscles. When certain parts of the body become trigger points, this means that there is a slight dysfunction to the performance and state of the nerves and muscles in the said area. 

How dry needling works is different from acupuncture because you do not leave the needles on your body. Instead, you poke or insert them in the trigger points and this invites a reflex action of your muscles. This reflex action, a jerk of the muscle, gives a sudden release of pain. With certain jumps of the muscle, the part of the body that used to be so tensed will no longer be like that. The downside to this, though, is the sudden pain you will feel especially when you’re a first timer. 

While the two are both very promising, I had to decide which therapy I would want to push through with. My goal was to no longer have back and neck pains and to have them as rare as possible. To add to that, I wanted my muscles to relax because I do think that they are already overused and too tensed.

To be able to decide, I went through the things I was iffy with for both acupuncture and dry needling. First, I have low tolerance for pain and I was afraid that I will not be able to take the sudden pain I will experience in dry needling. I was anxious that I will get so stressed because I was not comfortable with needles that will be poked at me. Because of this I was leaning towards acupuncture.

Another thing that I was considering was the fact that dry needling is relatively new as compared to acupuncture. Few people only know this kind of therapy and it wasn’t extensively researched on. However, I was also taking into account the scientific basis of dry needling and that the trigger points they refer to are points where there is tension. This was more comforting than believing in having chi especially when I wasn’t Chinese to begin with. 

In the end, I still went for acupuncture and I went to a clinic that was an expert on it. I was anxious at first since it was my first time, but I knew I had to get on with it. My back and neck pains were already so disturbing that some form of therapy had to take place. The good thing is that acupuncture did work on me and my muscle pains were greatly lessened.

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