Every day when patients ask me how acupuncture works, I explain to them that for pain, we've found there is an electrical charge built up in that area, and since acupuncture needles are metal, they are helping the electrical current flow through the fascia more normally. There is research (on acupuncture) to support this. And, this is just one of the things that is happening. There is also a release of endorphins which results in short term relief, and it has been "found that adenosine, a neuromodulator with anti-nociceptive properties, was released during acupuncture in mice and that its anti-nociceptive actions required adenosine A1 receptor expression." [http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v13/n7…].
Just because some one tells you that "dry needling" isn't acupuncture, and that it is "firmly rooted in Western science," (implying that there is no western scientific explanation for acupuncture and how it works) doesn't make it true. It also sounds like your PT doesn't have a great grasp on the mechanisms behind what he is doing, unlike an acupuncturist who has years of training. Much of what we study is western science, in addition to the traditional theories and classical theories (among others!) for acupuncture practice and application. We use electro-stim devices (both hand held and those that attach to the needles. We regularly deeply needle "ashi" points, which are usually trigger points. I use needles ranging in size from 1/2" to 3" daily, and I have larger needles for certain applications and certain patients. And I am a western trained acupuncturist. Go to China, and they are not messing around. It would make your PT's trigger point needling seem like "snorkeling," as you say. Oh, and that sensation you mentioned? Yep, we call it De Qi. If you don't experience that sensation on certain points during acupuncture, it's likely they're not doing what they're suppose to.
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