Beyond the Needle: A Technical, Cultural, and Rhetorical Study of Acupuncture Versus Dry Needling




Sides, Lindsay

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This thesis analyzes the ongoing debate over the relationship between acupuncture and dry needling. This thesis first discusses the origins and techniques of acupuncture, followed by the origins and techniques associated with dry needling. I draw together the similarities between the two practices to argue that dry needling is in fact a subcategory of acupuncture, despite the American Physical Therapy Association’s insistence that dry needling is not acupuncture. Next, I assess the clinical trials of both acupuncture and dry needling, which indicate that dry needling carries greater risk and less beneficial long-term health outcomes than acupuncture. While the available research suggests the efficacy of acupuncture over dry needling, I recommend further study of both practices in terms of their potential short-term and long-term efficacy. Last, I offer three possibilities for the apparent differences between the outcomes of the two practices: Americans’ fear of communism, an unwillingness to reform Western education, and cross-cultural differences between the values undergirding the practices. This thesis advances the ongoing debate over the nature of dry needling vis-à-vis acupuncture by clarifying important cultural and rhetorical factors that may explain the outcome differential between two practices that, at face value, seem nearly equivalent.