​Donald K. Liebell, DC, BCAO

477 Viking Drive Suite 170

Virginia Beach VA 23452 
8:30AM - 6:30PM M,W,F 

(By Appointment Tu, Sat) 


The Liebell Clinic: Chronic Pain & Wellness Solutions

Natural & holistic, whole-person, wellness-based Healthcare - Drug-Free & Non-Surgical Pain Relief


Ashi Acupuncture:

Treatment of Neuromuscular Trigger Points  

    By Dr. Donald Liebell


   Ashi acupuncture is the treatment performed to release tension within painful knots within muscles, known as myofascial trigger points.  Trigger points frequently cause pain that can radiate from tender spots within a muscle to broader areas, sometimes quite faraway from these points.  The phenomenon of trigger points are  are firmly established in Western medicine.

   Treatment of trigger points varies throughout medicine.  It may involve  manual massage,  mechanical vibration, ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation, manual compression, anaesthetic medicine, steroid injection, cold laser therapy, stretching techniques, and of course, acupuncture.   

   "Is Ashi acupuncture similar to what is being called dry needling?"

    Dry needling is claimed to be different from acupuncture because the needles are not placed according to Chinese energy meridian points, but rather in trigger points.   Dry needling is performed by Western medical practitioners, often physical therapists.  Many physical therapists justify calling dry needling is distinct from acupuncture because it doesn't involved discussion of improving energy flow within the body's meridians (energy channels), as in Traditional Chinese medicine.  The needles are being used directly in problem areas.   

   Acupuncturists tend to passionately disagree with this for the simple fact that acupuncture needles are being used.  Dry needling is an acupuncture method performed by non-acupuncturists, disguised as a Western medicine innovation.  I tend to agree, as there are a tremendous number of acupuncture techniques that have been used throughout the world over thousands of years. 

                                                  The term trigger point was coined in 1942 by Dr. Janet Travell.  However, ashi points have long been                                                      established as the point of most tenderness in Traditional Chinese Medicine.  The intention of relieving pain                                                is shared regardless of the language used or the philosophy behind the methods.  Although I am licensed in                                                acupuncture by the Virginia Board of Medicine, I do not practice Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) type                                                    acupuncture.  Nevertheless, I deeply respect the art and science of acupuncture, regardless of each                                                            practitioner's intention or methods.  

                                                 TCM is not my background, nor is it my interest.  I am fond of the ashi acupuncture approach to trigger                                                  points because it conforms to my scientific background in neuromusculoskeletal anatomy and physiology.​                                                    More importantly, my patients appreciate the results, which are achieved often very rapidly.     

   However, I am not fond of calling any form of acupuncture "dry needling."  I think it fiendishly deceptive.  The public is given the impression that conventional Western medical practitioners have invented or discovered something new.  It is arrogant to suggest that because it is being performed under the banner of modern Western medical science that it is not a form of acupuncture.  

   The noble profession of acupuncture has brought relief and healing to millions of people for thousands of years.  Practitioners of acupuncture have suffered the indignity of their incredible healing art being labeled as alternative medicine.  It is hypocritical to bash acupuncture and other drug-free methods for hundreds of years, and suddenly practice it by marketing it to the public under another name.  

   The philosophies and intent are different... but it is still acupuncture!  I think it is a silly argument, not worth any further energy.  I only addressed this controversy in this article because patients ask me about it.  Ashi acupuncture performed on trigger points of the upper back and lower neck muscles has been beneficial to many patients.  I commonly insert between one and six acupuncture needles.  They remain in place while I perform other treatments, such as cold laser therapy, piezoelectric stimulation, and auricular therapy.  In some cases, I maneuver the needless in and out of the trigger point.

 Dr. Donald Liebell

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