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Is Acupuncture/Dry Needling scientifically justified?

There are many different explanations for how acupuncture/dry needling works ranging from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) approach (which focuses on unblocking channels of energy and balancing out Yin and Yang) through to the Western Medical model (based on a scientific and research backed approach).

Today we will look at some of the explanations for how acupuncture works from a medical point of view.

A widely accepted form of how acupuncture/dry needling works is through the release of opioid based neurotransmitters (chemicals in the body that help transmit certain nerve impulses). Neurotransmitters are closely related to the perception of pain in the central nervous system. This hypothesis involving the opioids describes that pain is felt when the nervous system gets trapped in a kind of negative feedback loop. This can occur for numerous different reasons but results in not enough opioid release to deal with the pain being felt.

By using acupuncture/dry needling needles in specific sites on the body, a release of opioid based neurotransmitters into the nervous system is triggered by drawing attention to the area of pain. Once this level of perceived pain is reduced it allows the afflicted area of the body to move in a more normal manner that in turn will also help to reduce the pain and promote healing if required.

Acupuncture/dry needling has also been shown to work through a theory called the ‘Pain Gate theory’. This theory works on the basis that pain is transmitted on different types of nerve fibers to those that transmit the sensation of needling. The nerve fibers that carry pain signals send messages a lot slower than the nerve fibers that transmit the sensation of needling. Therefore the nerve impulse carrying the needling sensation will arrive at the spinal cord from the area of pain a lot quicker. This in turn binds with a nerve at the spinal cord to send the message up to the brain where the feeling of having a needle inserted will be felt. By the time the pain signal arrives at the spinal cord, the synapse (where two nerves join) that would usually carry the pain signal up to the brain is already being used by the nerve carrying the needling sensation. The pain therefore cannot carry on up to the brain, thus ‘closing the gate’ before pain gets though.

A recent study by one of the leading research establishments in the world (Cochrane) found when looking across a wide range of the best available research that acupuncture was found to increase function for those with chronic lower back pain, was a valuable non-drug based therapy for migraine and tension headaches, eased the pain of arthritic joints and interestingly was also found to compare favorably with drug based treatment for overactive bladders.


For any more information on acupuncture or if you think it sounds like you would benefit from such treatment just give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.

Joe Shippam