A needle is inserted into rat subcutaneous connective tissue and rotated under dissecting microscope. Numbers 1-7 correspond with the number of rotations of the needle.With as little as one rotation a connective tissue “whorl” can be seen.

Dry needling became part of my daily physiotherapy practice in my first week out of uni. And while some other treatment methods cycle in and out of my routine, dry needling has always remained a constant. There has always been a certain level of mystery surrounding the mechanisms of dry needling, especially when Traditional Chinese Acupuncture theories are applied. Nevertheless, some impressive studies are coming to the fore that help to illustrate how and why poking people with needles works. To grossly oversimplify the traditional concepts of acupuncture – Qi flows through the body through meridians, when this flow is impeded (by sickness or injury), you don’t feel so good; puncturing the skin in the right spots with needles can help redirect the flow of Qi and make you feel better. Qi is an unknown entity, it cannot be seen or measured but in the Traditional Chinese Medicine playbook, it is the universe – it is the earth and the environment; it is our bodies, our movement, our emotions. My lecturer once described Qi in the most profound yet accurate way:

“ What is Qi? Is it everything?? Yes!! Is it nothing?? Also, yes!!”

So, it’s easy to see why science has had trouble grasping ‘proof’ of the effectiveness of pricking points with needles. However, many theories have been proposed as to what differentiates an acupuncture point from non-acupuncture points – neurovascular bundles, neuromuscular attachments, sensory nerve endings and skin conductance to name a few. I like the article written by Langevin & Yandow (2002). It proposes that there may be merit in the idea that connective tissue planes may be the active mechanism. Coupling references from ancient acupuncture texts that refer to “fasciae and membranes through which Qi is believed to flow” with dissecting microscope images of rat connective tissue being wound up by rotating an acupuncture needle (pictured above). If the main aim of successful manual therapy is to disrupt tissue and make changes, its clear that inserting needles and manipulating them certainly does that. And while scientifically proving holistic acupuncture methods will continue to be elusive – more directed studies such as this one play a huge role in bolstering the integration of acupuncture into western medicine.