You may have heard about different forms of acupuncture, or needle use as a therapeutic
modality. There are three main ideologies for therapeutic needling: traditional Chinese
acupuncture, electrical stimulation, and dry needling.
Traditional Chinese acupuncture relies on specific combinations of points out of the possible
365 points along 14 meridians. This practice is often delivered by an Acupuncturist, someone
who has gone to school to learn about traditional Chinese medicine with over 2,000 hours of
practical training. Traditional acupuncture principles follow rigid guidelines for needle
placement according to points mapped along meridians that course through the body. Needles
are inserted along meridians to direct the flow of Qi or energy through the body to stimulate
the body’s natural healing abilities and promote physical and emotional well-being.
Needling with electrical stimulation uses a variety of techniques. Needles are inserted
surrounding the painful tissue and low frequency electricity is applied for general analgesia
causing an endorphin release that takes up to 45 minutes to feel the effect. Higher frequency
might be used for a faster release of endorphins. Individual needles might be stimulated using a
pen-like device that helps to release trigger points and facilitate motor nerves.
Dry needling is more anatomical based and focuses on needle placement according to points
where limitations and pain is focused. Your practitioner will assess movement patterns, muscle
tension and joint mobility to determine where these restrictions are. Needles are inserted into
the tissues as needed and are sometimes only left for a few seconds. The practitioner might
manipulate the needle, pulling it part way out and inserting it back in a different direction to
break up adhesions and scar tissue that might be causing the restrictions.
There are many ways to use acupuncture needles. I practice functional integrated acupuncture
which is an integration of various acupuncture and dry needling techniques that are combined
in a systematic way. It utilizes scientific understanding of local and central effects of pain and
dysfunction and incorporates strategies to normalize them. Targets for this practice include
muscles trigger points, peripheral nerves, and other soft tissue targets such as ligaments or
joint capsules. Needle insertion results in vasodilation or increase in oxygen to the tissues, and
receptors are activated resulting in a local reflex of muscle relaxation and pain modulation.
Needling can also cause central nervous system effects – calming the sympathetic nervous
system. The sympathetic nervous system is our ‘fight or flight’ system that keeps our body in a
state of high stress to react to life-threatening situations. Pain, especially when it becomes
chronic, can cause this system to go into hyperdrive. Needling can calm this to create benefits
such as better sleep, better food choices, and better social behaviour.
Depending on the soft tissue target, the treatment will last a few seconds to 20minutes. The
skin of the treatment area must be exposed and sanitized. Single use needles are inserted into
the tissue and manipulated as appropriate according to your treatment plan. You might feel
sore the day of the treatment, but you might also feel immediate effects of pain relief or
increased mobility. Heat application can be done to soothe any persistent aches. Depending on
the chronicity of your pain, you might need 1-10 treatments to get your nervous system calmed
down and pain relieved. As a chiropractor, often I will also provide a manual treatment after
using needling techniques to stretch the tissues and address any joint restrictions I might have
If you think you might benefit from an acupuncture appointment, book with me here.
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