So, to recap: Chiropractor, physical therapist or doctor with needles--less than 300 hours of training.
Acupuncturist (with master's degree or more)- 1200 hours of hands on experience using needles in a clinic on patients as part of our training, not including the academic training.
And whomever told you dry needling might be better--I would never listen to that person's advice again, because they give advice about things they clearly know NOTHING about.
Dry needling is a technique used to release trigger points, aka knots, in the muscles by forcing the muscle to twitch. That twitch response is the muscle fully contracting so it can fully release and therefore, alleviate pain. Wet needling, or trigger point injections, is a service provided by some pain management doctors that releases these knots using a steroid injection. Both techniques are very effective but only if the primary cause of the pain is the trigger points. Typically, trigger points are almost always involved, but the reason why they're forming may be the true cause of your back pain. Acupuncture can work both to alleviate the trigger points, and the true cause of your pain. Being able to attack from both sides (treating the central and surrounding reasons for pain) makes acupuncture very effective in pain management.
It takes a long time to learn how to practice acupuncture and how or where to apply the therapy. It is more than just a medical application, it is a healing art.
Alexandre Hillairet, DAOM.
Dry needling or acupuncture?
If you only compared dry needling and acupuncture with a photo, you might be stumped to identify each. Both acupuncture and dry needling use thin, stainless steel needles. For both practices, needles are inserted into the skin and both also claim to treat pain.
That’s where the similarities end. Unique qualities help differentiate the two. One practice has been used for thousands of years as an alternative treatment and has some solid research of effectiveness. The other’s been adopted in the last couple of decades.
Sorry to here about your pain. Both may help. It really matters on who the individual is that’s treating you. Dry needling is acupuncture needling done without an acupuncture license or education on how/why it is performed. The needles will probably be placed only in the location of back pain (which may offer relief). With acupuncture, points will be in locations on the back in addition to points within the vast channel system. There will be a diagnosis based on looking at your tongue and feeling your pulse to see what’s happening to you internally. Why is this even happening to you and not heeling on its own? The acupuncturist will figure out why you have this severe back pain and address the root cause. Is it do to deficiency, excess, stomach issue, blood stagnation, cold, heat, bladder problem, etc? Treating the root of the problem will offer long term results. Needling solely the back is like watering leaves on a plant, without nourishing the root. I’m also a physical therapist and have a colleague that performs it. He took a 6-month course and became certified to do needling that I was trained for 6 years to do safely. The treatment approaches and point selections will be completely different, though. (A nail technician is legally able to give massage, but if I was in pain, I would choose a licensed massage therapist instead.)
Hope you obtain long-lasting relief soon.
David G. Hanley, Dipl. OM
You should do acupuncture, not dry needle, because with dry needle, they put the needle wherever it hurts and the practitioner only has 100-180 hours of training.
practitioner who has had thousands of hours of clinical education.
Are there people out there who provide dry needling services who are quite good at what they do? Certainly. The problem is: there are no national certifying agencies, no course curriculum guidelines, very few hours of training required and no required continuing education. In essence, there's no quality control and, in my opinion, you're rolling the dice when you allow someone to treat you using solid needles who doesn't carry some sort of nationally recognized board certification.
The American Medical Association's position is: dry needling is acupuncture and those providers who offer the service need to have substantially similar training, certification and continuing education requirements as acupuncturists. As I noted above, usually they do not have these qualifications.
Generally speaking, dry needling is targeting so-called "trigger points". The thing about trigger points is: they have a very narrow set of diagnostic criteria. A trigger point is defined as a point of highest tension in a muscle that, when pressed, creates a radiating pain pattern characteristic of that location on that muscle. If it doesn't fit that definition, even if the point is tender, it's not a trigger point and may or may not benefit from having a needle stuck in it. Most folks offering dry needling are flexing the definition somewhat and will simply needle any point that is painful when pressed, regardless of whether the pain radiates in a characteristic way.
The other issue is: your back pain may or may not be related to muscular issues/trigger points. If your back pain is trigger point related, then this type of treatment can sometimes help. If your back pain is not trigger point related, then this type of treatment is usually a waste of your time and money.
An acupuncturist who specializes in musculoskeletal treatments/pain management can locate and treat using trigger points (if they are part of the problem) and they can also address other, non trigger point, issues which may be causing your discomfort/pain. Generally an acupuncturist is going to have much more experience using needles to address problems like this, your experience will be more comfortable (dry needling tends to be very painful) and you're less likely to be injured by the needling process. Back treatment can be tricky, especially if needles are required over the lung/chest cavity. There is a risk of tension pneumothorax due to a needle penetrating the pleural cavity. This is extremely painful and can be life-threatening. It can happen to anyone who is using needles over the chest, but it tends to happen more often with providers who have sub-standard training and then attempt to dry needle.
The question you have to ask yourself is: do I want someone who qualified for, took and passed a set of nationally recognized board exams after taking thousands of hours of class work and having several hundred supervised treatment hours under their belt treating me OR do I want someone who took a weekend seminar, maybe inserted a handful needles under supervision and has no national qualification to perform the procedure in question?
You could also think about it like this: if you found out you had a brain tumor would you let your kids' pediatrician operate on it just because they had an interest in neurosurgery or would you try to find a board certified neurosurgeon to do the work?
Ultimately it's the same question. Do I want a board certified specialist or am I willing to roll the dice with just any old provider?
I suggest starting with the "Find a Practitioner" page at NCCAOM.org. Get a list of credentialed acupuncturists in your area and call around to see if you can find someone who specializes either in pain management or musculoskeletal acupuncture. In my opinion this will give you the best possible result and the safest, most comfortable treatment experience.