The difference between traditional Chinese acupuncture & medical acupuncture (also known as dry needling)?

Demonstration of physiotherapy treatment called Acupuncture

Traditional Chinese Acupuncture

The difference in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) acupuncture and medical acupuncture lies in the way that each approaches acupuncture and the philosophy behind the diagnosis and treatment.

Practitioners of TCM believe that energy known as ‘qi’ flows around your body in channels (meridians). With traditional Acupuncture, the diagnosis partly depends on an energetic diagnosis assessing the flow of qi. Equal and opposite properties called yin and yang are thought to become unbalanced, causing illness. The needles used in acupuncture aim to restore this balance.

  • Needles inserted at fixed ‘qi’ points
  • Diagnosis based on energy flow
  • Aim to restore balance (between yin & yang)
  • Uses it as the ONLY form of treatment

Traditional Chinese Acupuncture is the healing of the body, through the use of small needles inserted into the different points of the body. Acupuncturists are trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine which should not be confused with Western Medicine. The goals of acupuncture is to promote healing and to relieve pain. Acupuncturists are there to help you understand the energy your body gives off.

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Acupuncture treatment of Meridians

The body consists of 12 points called meridians. These points are the pathways through which a life force substance called Qi flows. An acupuncturist will take a medical history, inspect your body. After this, the acupuncturist is then insert small needles into the body along these meridians, at the right points depending on where the imbalance of energy is.

In conclusion: The main aim of Acupuncture administered by Acupuncturists are to restore balance in their life by changing the flow of Qi.

Western Medicine Acupuncture or Dry Needling

It has been extensively researched and investigated by western medicine and scientifically proven in numerous studies. True Acupuncture techniques used by reflexologists are not the same as the medically approved “Dry Needling”. The technique requires the insertion of fine stainless steel needles through the skin to the underlying deep structures such as muscles, fascia, ligament, etc.

These points are determined by the physiotherapist after thorough assessment of the underlying tissue. Acupuncture or Dry Needling are very effective in stimulating the body to heal itself and to relieve acute or chronic pain.

Dry needling is a very safe modality if done by a trained physiotherapist

In medical acupuncture, your practitioner will make a diagnosis using the same techniques as those of conventional medicine. Needles are inserted at certain points identified by the practitioner during his screening and assessment of your body. Acupuncture needles stimulate nerve endings and alter the way your brain functions, it also activates an immune response localized to the insertion point which accelerates the healing of the tissue.

  • Needles inserted at different position/ points
  • Diagnosis based on clinical examination and test
  • Aim to restore normal movement (biomechanical structure)
  • Uses it WITH OTHER types of treatment
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Effects of Acupuncture

  • Accelerate healing of tissue
  • Improve muscle range of motion
  • Shorten recovery time
  • Improve joint range
  • Increase blood flow to tissue
  • Loosening of muscle tightness
  • Improve muscle flexibility
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How does the Western Acupuncture affect the tissue:

When the needles are inserted into the injured tissue, the needle stimulates a chemical reaction called a Cytokine reaction. What is the Function of cytokines? Cytokines are a large group of proteins, peptides or glycoproteins that are secreted by specific cells of immune system. Cytokine cells are a category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity, inflammation and hematopoiesis. This reaction stimulates a localized inflow(influx) of inflammatory cells to site of the needle insertion:

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Acupuncture treatment

Cytokines effects:

  1. Granulocytes are white blood cells that have small granules or particles. These granules contain numerous proteins that are responsible for helping the immune system fight off infection (viruses, bacteria). Neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils are three types of granulocytes.
  2. Neutrophils are white blood cells that play some very important roles in our innate immune system. They circulate around our body in the bloodstream, and when they sense signals that an infection is present, they are the first cells to migrate to the site of the infection to begin killing the invading microbes.
  3. Basophils appear in many specific kinds of inflammatory reactions, particularly those that cause allergic symptoms. Basophils contain anticoagulants, which prevents blood from clotting too quickly. They also contain the vasodilator histamine, which promotes blood flow to tissues.
  4. Macrophages are versatile cells that play many roles. As scavengers, they rid the body of worn-out cells and other debris. Along with dendritic cells, they are foremost among the cells that present antigens, a crucial role in initiating an immune response. As secretory cells, monocytes and macrophages are vital to the regulation of immune responses and the development of inflammation; they produce a wide array of powerful chemical substances (monokines) including enzymes, complement proteins, and regulatory factors such as interleukin-1.
  5. Lymphocytes function: T cells and B cells are the major cellular components of the adaptive immune response. T cells are involved in cell-mediated immunity, whereas B cells are primarily responsible for humoral immunity (relating to antibodies).

These chemical and hormonal reaction caused by the needles result in a cascade of immune system responses. All these cells rush to the area where the needles were inserted. Each of these cells have their own function to help with the healing of injured tissue.

What does it feel like?

It feels like someone is pinching your skin. Definitely not like an injection. People experience acupuncture needling differently. Most patients feel only minimal pain as the needles are inserted, some feel no pain at all. Once the needles are in place, there is no pain felt. Acupuncture needles are very thin and solid and are made from stainless steel. The point is smooth (not hollow with cutting edges like a hypodermic needle) and insertion through the skin. Its not as painful as injections or blood sampling.

The risk of bruising and skin irritation is less than when using a hollow needle.
Physiotherapist always have to use sterile disposable needles, there is no risk of infection from the treatments.

Depending on the structure and the depth that the therapist must ‘needle’, it can be uncomfortable. The needles are inserted through the skin to the deeper layers. They insert them in the body, by finding the right pressure & trigger points. When inserted into the body, the depth of the needles may vary, depending on which structure is targeted by the Physiotherapist.

When the acupuncture needles are inserted, they are left in place for between 15 and 40 minutes and often the physiotherapist will manipulate the needles so that you will feel a dull ache or numb sensation around their site of insertion. This sensation is called “De Qi” or “obtaining energy” and traditionally it is thought that “De Qi” may be an important part of the treatment process as this suggests that the nervous system is being correctly stimulated.

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Acupuncture therapy

How long does this treatment take?

Treatments tend to last anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the size and depth of the structure being treated.

In your professional experience: Dry Needling is a very effective treatment and can make a significant change in the rate of recovery. Little discomfort now can be very rewarding later.
We often use it as an extra modality to accelerate and promote healing.

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Side-effects of Acupuncture treatment/ Dry needling

These are mild, short-lived temporary effects of this successful treatment :

  • Discomfort when the needle is inserted
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling faint
  • Bruising or bleeding at the site of the needle
  • Numbness over the affected area
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Physio Pretoria treatment

  • Acute injury treatment
  • Ultrasound
  • Medications
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Electrotherapy treatment
  • Laser (Low Level Laser therapy)
  • Acupuncture & Dry Needling
  • Heat packs (Thermal therapy)
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Rigid Strapping or taping
  • Neurodynamics (Nerve tissue mobilizations)
  • Dynamic Strapping
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Guided loading protocol
  • Stretches (Static, dynamic and ballistic)
  • Moon boot
  • Brace
  • Compression Bandage or
  • Sleeve
  • Supportive strapping and taping
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Gait Analysis
  • TENS