Dry Needling vs Medical Acupuncture - What’s The Difference?

This is a question that came up recently in a brief Twitter discussion. So thought I would take a stab at a more complete explanation.

Medical acupuncture (MA) is a western approach to the use of acupuncture based on an evidence based, more scientific understanding of the use of needles.

Given advances in understanding what happens at a neurophysiological level when we insert a needle, MA seeks to utilise these effects in different ways to promote healing and recovery from illness and injury. This is is a simplified explanation but I am sure you get the idea. For an excellent read on the definition of MA, take a look at this paper published in Acupuncture in Medicine.

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Re-accreditation Success

Well 5 years have gone by and it was time to submit my application to the British Medical Acupuncture Society for reaccreditation.

So whats this all about?

As an accredited member who has been awarded the Diploma in Medical Acupuncture, I am required to submit evidence to the Competency, Accreditation and Examination Board of the Society to demonstrate that I have been keeping up to date with developments in Medical Acupuncture, effectively proof on continuing education.

As a Physiotherapist who has a particular interest in the use of needling as part of an integrated physiotherapy approach, its was not difficult to meet the criteria. If you’re interested, take a look at the re-accreditation guidelines here.

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Does Acupuncture Promote Anti-inflammatory And Mechanotransduction Mechanisms Promoting Tendon Healing?

This article by de Almeida et al, 2013 reminds us that previous studies have shown acupuncture to increase the synthesis and reorganisation of collagen molecules in rat tendons after injury. Clinical studies have also shown that acupuncture improves pain and functional activity in patients with tendinopathy. This may be due to acupuncture having been shown to modulate both anti-inflammatory and mechanotransduction molecular pathways resulting in an increase in type 1 collagen synthesis.

The authors present a hypothesis that acupuncture increases synthesis and subsequent reorganisation of type I collagen during tendon healing by concomitant modulation of the Toll-like receptor-nuclear factor-κB AI pathway, the mitogen-activated protein kinases pathway and the Rho/Rac-F-actin MT pathway. All sounds a bit complicated for my clinical brain, so lets move on.

In practice the authors state that increased collagen synthesis and reorganisation requires the use of at least one acupuncture point that is anatomically ‘connected’ with the site of the injury because of the local tenoblast mechanotransduction mechanism. This may support the use of more local needling when treating tendon injuries which I have discussed in a previous blog.

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Latest Evidence for Acupuncture

Given the fact that using Medical Acupuncture in clinical practice is viewed by some as being somewhat controversial, wouldn't it be nice to know exactly where we stand from an evidence point of view?

There is a growing body of compelling evidence to support its use. We need to know about this evidence as well as aspects of basic pain science which makes interpreting the evidence more meaningful.

Thankfully, we all have the good fortune of being able to access an up to date review of the evidence, supporting the use of Acupuncture in the treatment of a variety of conditions - found here... 

This review was compiled and is updated by Dr. Mike Cummings, the medical director at the British Medical Acupuncture Society

Armed with this information, we are able to take on the Acupuncture cynic we may encounter (usually someone who does not actually use the technique) and challenge them with a sound evidence base for the use of a technique which, when used correctly, can be so very effective.

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Reflections On 2013

Another year has passed and I have become even more convinced of the enhanced clinical effectiveness which can be achieved by integrating the use of Medical Acupuncture (MA).

Could this be partly due to the effects of patient self selection - in other words I have more and more patients seeking me out with the specific intention of receiving MA as part of their treatment. I seem to have become known as the therapist who does the 'hands on' physiotherapy with the 'Acupuncture needling'. To what extent does this positive sense of expectation influence clinical outcomes? I would suggest this non specific effect has a potent impact, even more so if the patient arrives having also been referred by his or her GP. I trust my doctor so this therapist must be good (so they might be thinking). Of course I then have to deliver on this expectation, not always easy but I seem to be successful in the majority of cases.

Looking back over the year I have found writing these blogs very interesting and insightful. There has certainly been some interesting research on which to comment. I also hope some of my clinical discussions may have been of use to some of you. It's also certainly been a good exercise in keeping up to date with what's going on in the field of MA.

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