In honor of Black History Month, I wanted to share some of the stories of how acupuncture came to be a legitimate practice in the US largely through the activism of some unlikely proponents—the Black Panthers and the Young Lords. Our medical history is full of examples of people of color being exploited by the medical industry, of people suffering in experiments because it was assumed their skin color prevented them from “really feeling pain” and other abominations that continue in less obvious ways to impact access to effective and safe health care for people of color. It took radical, focused, and illegal actions to improve access to health care for people of color in New York, and the Lincoln Detox Center still stands as an inspiring story of community activism for positive change. The model of the Lincoln Detox Center for treating addiction still stands as the gold standard for effective treatment.
In the 1970s acupuncture went from something in the back alleys of Chinatowns across the US to a vital element in community clinics founded and run by leaders in the Civil Rights community and became a subject of national interest after Henry Kissinger’s seminal trip to China, where doctors demonstrated acupuncture anesthesia during surgery. In 1974, California became the first state to openly license acupuncture after public outcry following the arrest of Dr. Miriam Lee. If it hadn’t been for the very public use of acupuncture in these community clinics and building awareness of the efficacy of acupuncture, I doubt the public outcry would have been very loud, and acupuncture might still be unregulated (as it is in a handful of states including Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Dakota). Thanks to these pioneering efforts, acupuncture has become recognized as a primary treatment option for pain, addiction, anxiety, and more.
Of note, at that time in China, acupuncture was part of an outreach to provide basic health care to the poor, rural regions of the country as part of the Barefoot Doctors. Elements of the traditional practices of acupuncture had been simplified into a standardized practice by Chinese physicians called “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, which is the foundation of most acupuncture training here in the US. One doctor who was on one of these trips to China, Tolbert Small, MD observed the acupuncture demonstration and asked for treatment for himself. He was intrigued enough to ask for more information. He was able to record 4 hours of lecture on the use of acupuncture and estim (electrical stimulation), procure some needles and an estim machine, and proceeded to practice on himself and his family after his return from China. Back in Oakland, he obtained an English translation of a Chinese Medicine text to study and expand his understanding of acupuncture.
He then incorporated acupuncture, mostly electro-acupuncture, into his practice in his community clinic and pioneered the use of acupuncture for the treatment of the symptoms of sickle-cell anemia. Dr. Small primarily used acupuncture to treat various kinds of pain. He was also pivotal in bringing national awareness to the plight of people with sickle-cell anemia and garnering more funding for testing and research of treatment. He even used acupuncture to ease his wife’s labor pains during two of her deliveries and may have been the first MD to do so in the US. To learn more about Dr. Small, I recommend this interview.
On the other side of the country in the South Bronx, Matulu Shakur (stepfather of Tupac Shakur) was one of the providers in the Lincoln Detox Center who heard about acupuncture for the treatment of addiction in Hong Kong in a New York Times article, and took an interest. He went to Chinatown to purchase acupuncture kits and books from doctors, then went to Montreal for training. There he studied how to treat addiction with acupuncture and later traveled to China, Switzerland, and other countries where acupuncture was used more openly. He was later licensed in California as an acupuncturist and founded an acupuncture school in the Bronx. His work along with those like Michael O. Smith, MD, DAc, lead to the development of the NADA protocol—a simple 5-point ear acupuncture protocol that is now used throughout the country for the treatment of addiction.
The Lincoln Detox Center was also notable for the development of the first patient bill of rights—changing the relationship between doctor and patient to protect patient rights and give them a voice in their care. Cleo Silvers, while not an acupuncturist, was a community organizer and advocate who was instrumental in authoring the patient bill of rights to ensure patients had access to quality care, their medical records, and the right to not be experimented on without their knowledge or consent—things that were grossly lacking especially among patients of color that we now take for granted.
Another key leader in the Lincoln Detox story was Richard Taft, MD; who was likely murdered during his tenure, though his death was staged to look like a suicide. He was working to publicize the dangers of methadone and promote acupuncture and other treatments for true detox at the time of his death. Today acupuncture continues to provide a safe alternative to methadone in the treatment of addiction, while at the same time continuing to be underutilized in many treatment centers and not readily accessible for the people who most need it. It is my hope that as awareness grows, access to acupuncture becomes a standard practice for addiction for all people.
When it comes to the heart and the question of “Can Acupuncture really help with that?” the answer is a resounding yes! From angina to issues of rhythm and blood flow, there is ample research to show acupuncture helps with no documented adverse effects during study periods—even with severe heart diseases.
Acupuncture as an adjunctive therapy improves treatment outcomes and pain relief for patients with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) related angina. We’ve seen this repeatedly in our clinic as well.
Atrial Fibrillation (Afib): 1x weekly acupuncture for 12 weeks showed improved structural remodeling of the heart in patients with afib. This was fascinating to me, as I knew regular acupuncture of 2-4x per month extended the time between problems my afib patients had by 50-70% over what they experienced before acupuncture; but to learn it helped positively remodel the structure of the heart?!?! That’s huge!
Acupuncture has consistently been shown to increase blood flow and exercise tolerance in patients with chronic heart failure. This reduces stress, helps maintain a healthy weight and immune function, and improves patient quality of life without negative side effects!!
There are some well-understood mechanisms at play here such as the ability of acupuncture to regulate the balance of the sympathetic nervous system and vagus nerve, to help increase peripheral circulation, and to improve patient well-being; but to see that acupuncture is positively changing cell-signaling and structure of the heart itself shows there is much more than just a placebo effect going on. So yes, acupuncture helps. We even have some incredible herbs available to support and enhance treatments.
The bad news: Acupuncture isn’t a miracle cure (nothing alone is!). I probably sound like a broken record to some of my patients at this point, but for all the wonderful things we can do with acupuncture, herbs, and FSM to help with heart health—the choices you make at home each day about what foods you eat (or don’t eat) and what you do for stress management are critical to successfully managing and possibly even reversing heart disease. If you are taking blood pressure meds, cholesterol meds, or diabetes medicines, you aren’t healthy—you are masking an underlying disease process that will negatively impact your quality of life (if not the quantity of it as well). All the acupuncture in the world can’t overcome bad food choices. So to encourage heart health, we are including an eating guide to help you as well as resources for more help if you need it! And while you fix your diet, let acupuncture help you along the way!
2 Kristen AV, Schuhmacher B, Strych K, Lossnitzer D, Friederich HC, Hilbel T, Haass M, Katus HA, Schneider A, Streitberger KM, Backs J. Acupuncture improves exercise tolerance of patients with heart failure: a placebo-controlled pilot study. Heart. 2010 Sep;96(17):1396-400. doi: 10.1136/hrt.2009.187930. Epub 2010 Jun 15. PMID: 20554511.
3 Middlekauff HR, Hui K, Yu JL, Hamilton MA, Fonarow GC, Moriguchi J, Maclellan WR, Hage A. Acupuncture inhibits sympathetic activation during mental stress in advanced heart failure patients. J Card Fail. 2002 Dec;8(6):399-406. doi: 10.1054/jcaf.2002.129656. PMID: 12528093
A frequent question we get in the clinic is “Can you get me off my diabetes medicine?" The simple answer is “no”. Acupuncture and herbs alone are potent allies in healing, but especially with diabetes, the choices you make each day have far more impact than anything anyone can give you. The more complete answer is “it depends”:
It is also important to know that we cannot make changes to prescription medications, so it’s important to work with your doctor as well as your acupuncturist when you decide that you are ready to make the changes you need for better health.
So why try acupuncture and TCM for diabetes?
Acupuncture and herbal medicine are not a “one-size fits all” treatment approach—each patient is unique and we chose our specific formulas and acupuncture points for each patient based on the presentation of the entire patient; not just a set cookie-cutter treatment. As a result, not only do we see the diabetes symptoms improve, the patient experiences better health overall. By choosing the right approach for each patient we avoid the spiral of “take this medication for this, and this medication for that, and this medication for the side effects of the first medication and yet another medication for the side effects of the second medication….” that so many patients experience.
Now as to the pesky diet and exercise thing:
If you continue to overload your body with too much of the wrong foods and not enough of the right exercise—even the best treatments and formulas, plus the medications your doctor prescribes—won’t be enough to keep the disease from progressing!
I highly recommend anyone who has diabetes or even a risk factor for diabetes (which is pretty much everyone) read “Why We Get Sick” by B. Bikman. It’s a great book based on solid research that helps you understand what happens with diabetes and more importantly, what you can do to change it. If you need help getting off the sugar, we have amazing and compassionate coaching and nutrition partners who can help you!
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1 Wang KX, Liang FX, Chen S, Luo ZH, Chen B, Chen ZQ, Zhang YL, Chen J, Gu XL, Zhou T, Yan P, Xu XY. Effect of electroacupuncture of "Biao-Ben" acupoints on renal function and hemorheology and eNOS level in patients with early diabetic nephropathy. Zhen Ci Yan Jiu. 2022 Jan 25;47(1):46-52. Chinese. doi: 10.13702/j.1000-0607.20210036. PMID: 35128870.
2 Wang H, Chen X, Chen C, Pan T, Li M, Yao L, Li X, Lu Q, Wang H, Wang Z. Electroacupuncture at Lower He-Sea and Front-Mu Acupoints Ameliorates Insulin Resistance in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus by Regulating the Intestinal Flora and Gut Barrier. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2022 Jul 30;15:2265-2276. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S374843. PMID: 35936053; PMCID: PMC9348137.
3 Dimitrova A, Murchison C, Oken B. Acupuncture for the Treatment of Peripheral Neuropathy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Altern Complement Med. 2017 Mar;23(3):164-179. doi: 10.1089/acm.2016.0155. Epub 2017 Jan 23. PMID: 28112552; PMCID: PMC5359694.
Let’s face it, acupuncture doesn’t always have the best public image. People think of Kungfu Panda or Pinhead—needles randomly poking everywhere. Or maybe they’ve been on Instagram and seen some photos and videos of poorly done dry needling (through clothing, dangerous needle placement over organs, etc) and equate that with acupuncture. Who wants to risk an infection or organ puncture—no thank you! Then someone says they are going to stick needles in your ears and help you feel better—truly, I understand the skepticism! Now, let me break down some of the mysteries.
Acupuncture isn’t a singular practice. There are dozens of different systems and styles and a myriad of variations among those. Acupuncturists have many resources to address your issues with those tiny little needles. One of these systems is Auricular (Ear) Acupuncture. Amazingly the entire body, internal and external, including the emotions are reflected in the ear.
Don’t believe it? Here are some photos and video of the changes one patient experienced after having her knees locked straight for years after her bilateral knee replacement. This immobility in her knees made it hard to walk, and uncomfortable to sit; caused problems in her knees, hips, back, and feet…and repeatedly she was told her case was hopeless. Even trying to force the knees to bend under sedation didn’t work. She originally came to see me for allergies (also resolved), but her knees were so clearly painful and her legs just stuck out straight even sitting on the edge of the chair. I asked her if I could see if some extra needles might help with the pain.
She agreed. I placed a tiny 3mm long needle in just the right spot aiming to simply reduce her pain and within a few seconds the knee had bent a little and the pain was greatly reduced! Encouraged and amazed, I continued on. Another needle, another increase in range of motion. 3 needles and her knee had gained a visible range of motion. Fast forward 2 months—her knee was now bending even more, almost to 90 degrees if she really focused on it, with no pain and no further treatment. We then decided to do the same thing for the opposite knee…same result.
An “impossible” case was getting nearly immediate and long-lasting relief. Sounds too good to be true, I get it! This is why I love what I do. Changing people’s lives for the better without drugs and working with the body, instead of against it. And that’s the point, helping people live better, one person at a time.
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Integrative medicine solutions including acupuncture and East Asian Medicine have received much attention as successful therapies in their treatment providing pain relief, regulating the immune system, managing symptoms, and improving overall quality of life. In addition, acupuncture increases the chances of a successful and healthy pregnancy for women with autoimmune conditions.
Autoimmune diseases are a group of disorders in which the immune system attacks the body and destroys or alters tissues. There are more than 100 serious chronic illnesses in this category including rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, Addison's disease, pernicious anemia, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, and Guillain–Barré syndrome.
The exact mechanisms causing these changes are not entirely understood, but bacteria, viruses, toxins, and some drugs may play a role in triggering an autoimmune process in someone who already has a genetic (inherited) predisposition to develop such a disorder. It is theorized that the inflammation initiated by these agents, toxic or infectious, somehow provokes in the body a "sensitization" (autoimmune reaction) in the involved tissues.
As the disease develops, vague symptoms start to appear, such as joint and muscle pain, general muscle weakness, possible rashes or low-grade fever, trouble concentrating, or weight loss. The following symptoms may indicate something wrong: numbness and tingling in hands and feet, dry eyes, hair loss, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or repeated miscarriages can also be caused by an autoimmune response.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), more than 24 million people in the US have autoimmune diseases and another 8 million have autoimmune markers without a clear disease diagnosis. Of these, more than 80% are women. Each disease appears uncommon on an individual basis but, as a group, the disorders make up the fourth-largest cause of disability among women.
How Acupuncture Treats Autoimmune Disorders
According to East Asian Medicine theory, autoimmune disorders occur when there is an imbalance within the body systems related to immune functions. Imbalances can come from an excess or deficiency of yin and yang that disrupts the flow of Qi through the body. While these explanations sound strange, when the model is applied to the body, the treatments are very effective. Acupuncture is used to help the body restore balance; treating the root of the disorder, while specifically addressing the symptoms that are unique to each individual.
Clinical research has shown that acupuncture causes physical responses in nerve cells, organ function, and parts of the brain. These responses help the body rebalance. As a result things like blood pressure, body temperature, and the immune system return to a more normal and healthy state.
Acupuncture and herbal medicine provide safe and effective options for the management of autoimmune conditions and improving quality of life. Please contact our office with any questions.
Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the US; more than 800,000 people die of heart attacks alone each year. 1 in 3 deaths in the US are linked to heart disease in most statistical data reviewed. This vital organ is often neglected or inadvertently stressed with poor diet and lifestyle habits. Strokes, heart failure, and many other cardiovascular-related issues are all attributed to poor heart health. Worse yet, it is misunderstood as “only” a pump—when it has other key functions in our body.
Most everyone has heard: reducing cholesterol to healthy levels and maintaining healthy blood pressure are keys to good heart health. Less discussed is the role of Heart Rate Variability (HRV), the variation in time between each heartbeat, as a measure of health. Higher HRV is associated with decreased risks of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. And low cholesterol and blood pressure alone are not enough to maintain a healthy HRV because HRV is largely regulated by the balance of the autonomic nervous system. HRV used to only be measurable with an EKG; but many of today’s wearable fitness devices are accurate enough to give a reasonable estimate of HRV, especially those that have the ability to add data from a Holter monitor or finger sensor.
Yoga and tai chi have a long history of improving health and research is clear that both can directly improve HRV and coherence with consistent practice. Consistent quality sleep, limiting alcohol consumption, regular exercise, drinking adequate water, and focusing on eating real, fresh food with an emphasis on vegetables and healthy fats, also help protect heart health.
How else can you help maintain health HRV? Well, acupuncture has consistently been shown to improve HRV even when the focus of the treatment is on other complaints. When it is focused on regulating nervous system balance and heart function, it’s even more effective. Frequency Specific PEMF has also shown to regulate the autonomic nervous system and therefore HRV. Another great way to improve HRV through enhanced coherence is our equine programs. Just simply being in physical proximity to a horse has been shown to increase coherence and HRV. Add to that the benefits of the meditation and tai chi that we teach with the equine exercises, and you have tools to take home with you to continue to improve your heart health and well-being.
If you want to learn more about heart health I recommend the HeartMath Institute. They are a leading researcher in heart health and generous with their free products to support public health. They offer a number of free classes and publications to help people learn practices to improve their HRV and even have tools for sale to help them measure their progress. This link here is one of my favorite, 10 HeartMath Practices | HeartMath Institute.
Do you enthusiastically sign up for daunting tasks? Probably not too often, although some of us are more masochistic than others. If you do, the excitement is more than likely an eagerness to get said task behind you and out of the way. Cleaning the gutters for instance—get it out of the way, and it will be a while before you have to bother with that again. I’m not talking about chores, though. I’m talking about weight loss—A day in, day out task that requires thoughtfulness on a consistent basis. Ok, maybe daunting isn’t the most optimistic word, but how many of us look at it that way? It’s something to work at, plan for, and is much less convenient than easily swinging into a McDonald’s drive-thru when you’re starving and on your way from point a to point b.
If you’ve been trying to lose weight for a while, what are the roadblocks you’ve experienced? Does it seem that no matter what, you just can’t shed the pounds? There are a number of things that can impact weight: diet and exercise are the most obvious, but we must also remember hormones, high stress, and even attitude can put a stranglehold on those weight loss efforts.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be an extremely effective approach to weight loss. Acupuncture and herbal medicine, together or individually, work to bring the body back into homeostasis helping it to function more optimally. At Raja Wellness, this approach is personally tailored to fit your individual needs.
Acupuncture is the therapeutic modality of inserting very thin, flexible needles at certain points on the body. Think of these acupuncture points as little “reset buttons.” Resetting your body to a more stable, higher functioning state. Acupuncture treats many ailments—from digestive disorders to migraines, chronic pain to infertility. It also helps to regulate and balance hormones. It can ease stress as well, which can not only slow the body’s metabolic process but can send some of us into a stress-eating downward spiral. Acupuncture can also help reduce fluid retention by stimulating the endocrine system—which also helps to boost metabolism.
Sounds a little less daunting, doesn’t it? Despite our best intentions and efforts, the things going on inside our body can just get in the way sometimes, but we’re here to help! With side effects such as improved sleep quality, increased energy, pain reduction, and consequently an improved attitude, you may find yourself crushing any goal with ease.
(P.S. Not bad for side effects, amiright?)
Herbal medicine can also help improve your weight loss efforts. Certain medicinal herbs can also help to regulate hormones, reduce stress, decrease fluid retention, and balance the body. In conjunction with acupuncture, you’ll find it easier to reach your pound-shedding goals.
Instead of just focusing on counting calories or carbs or fitting in a daily exercise routine (though quite helpful!), consider addressing the underlying issues of your body as a whole—especially if you’ve tried to lose weight and just couldn’t seem to keep the momentum going no matter how hard you’ve tried.
We’re here to encourage and support you on your journey to wellness! If you’d like to find out more about acupuncture and herbal medicine for weight loss, give our office a call at (270) 506-3853 or set up a phone or in-person consultation here.
Nanopuncture is an acupuncture system developed by acupuncturist Dr. Clayton Shui. It is based on a system of acupuncture he learned in China while studying for his PhD.
The system, called Xing Nao Kai Qiao, which translates “awaken the spirit and open the orifices” was developed over the last 50 years by Dr. Dr. Shi Xue Min of Tianjin hospital, Tianjin China for the treatment of stroke. This hospital treats approximately 10,000 stroke patients a day and is featured in the documentary “9,000 Needles”, a film that followed the treatment of Devin Dearth a 39-year-old stroke patient from Central City KY.
After being hospitalized until he was stable, Devon was sent for physical rehabilitation where he made good progress considering the extensive, life-threatening nature of the stroke he sustained. Even though he was making excellent progress, he was discharged from the rehab hospital due to insurance issues.
At this point he was still unable to walk and required extensive 24-hour care. With Devin’s wife struggling to care for him at home, his family began searching for other treatment methods that would help him regain some of his function and increase his independence. It was during this time when Devin’s brother Doug discovered the cutting-edge stroke treatment at Tianjin Hospital.
He found that people from around the world were going to Tianjin hospital and were obtaining excellent results. It was then that Devon and his family knew this was something that they needed to try. After months of preparation Devin, his wife, and his brother Doug (who is also is a documentarian) set off for Tianjian. Devin spent the next three months receiving intensive treatment which included acupuncture, herbal medicine, and physical rehabilitation.
Upon arriving, Devon was wheelchair bound, unable to move the side of his body effected by the stroke, had moderate speech difficulties, and dependent upon assistance to perform even the most basic of tasks. At the end of his time at Tianjin, Devon was able to walk with limited assistance, he had movement of his effected side, required minimal assistance to perform basic tasks, and his speech was substantially improved.
Based on his study under the supervision of Dr. Shi Xue Min, Dr. Clayton Shui (as mentioned above) developed and systematized a new acupuncture technique that applies essential elements of stroke acupuncture protocol to orthopedic and sports medical treatments for injury rehabilitation and prevention.
The result is a new, highly efficient system that can used to analyze the nervous system to determine where the its circulation and function is inhibited and will directly reset and reboot the patient’s nervous system in various parts of the body. This offers the patient significant neurovascular circulation benefits. Nanopuncture does this by using specific point protocols and needling techniques to activate the local nerve plexus, transmitting nerve impulses to the injured tissue, and increasing circulation. This increases range of motion, strength, relaxes tissues, and improves nerve firing.
Nanopuncture has been able to effectively treat neurological conditions such as:
Robert Cecil, one of our acupuncturists here at Raja Wellness, has received advanced training in this treatment technique and has been successfully implementing Nanopuncture with excellent results. While results are frequently seen after the first treatment, a treatment frequency of 3 times a week for 4 weeks is recommended. After this, a reassessment is performed and need for further treatment is then determined.
Did you know we can do Dry Needling?
It’s true, the needling techniques used in Dry Needling are among the first we learn in school. Dry Needling is an Acupuncture technique and as such should be performed only by professionals with an appropriate level of training such as a licensed acupuncturist or medical acupuncturist. Knowledge of anatomy and physiology is only one portion of the required skill set to safely and effectively use needles as a therapeutic tool. It is not a skill set that can be mastered in just a few hours.1
Acupuncturists understand the physiological basis for acupuncture as well as the underlying East Asian Medical Systems theory that underpins traditional treatment approaches (diagnosis, needling techniques, etc). Just because our licensure scope of practice isn’t full of biomedical definitions of acupuncture, it doesn’t mean that we don’t understand the physiological effect of our needles on our patients' bodies. A close examination of the acupuncture research literature easily shows the validity of this. Some acupuncture points and trigger points can be described using almost identical language when using biomedical definitions of these structures:
Trigger Point is a sensitive area in the muscle or connective tissue (fascia) that becomes painful when compressed. Pressing on a trigger point can cause referred pain and can help identify the external area in the body generating the pain.
Ashi acupuncture involves treating areas causing pain and dysfunction that are usually unknown to the patient, and which actually constitute the root cause of their physical pain or dysfunction. Adopting Ashi acupuncture as the primary treatment method when treating physical pain, numbness, tingling or burning due to inhibited circulation or nerve impingement, as well as a range of motion issues, is critical to clinical success.2
The term Ashi - literally 'Ah yes!' - Qian Jin Yao Fang (Thousand Ducat Formulas): ‘In terms of the method of Ashi, in speaking of a person who has a condition of pain, when squeezing, if there is a spot inside [we] do not ask if it is a [recognised] acupuncture point, because [we] located a painful spot and they said, “Ah yes!”. Needling and moxa-ing [the points] have proven effective in the past, thus they are called Ashi points.3
Use of Ashi or Trigger Points has been part of accepted acupuncture practice for over 4,000 years - the advent of biomedical terminology to describe them does not negate the long-standing history of these points as part of acupuncture practice. Simply needling a trigger point without addressing the underlying pattern of the patient (as is done in “dry needling” by those without in-depth training) can lead to poor outcomes for patients. Further, without appropriate training the idea that a “twitch” response is necessary for therapeutic benefit can lead to unnecessarily deep and aggressive needle techniques, undue pain and risk of injury to the patient. Lastly, without an understanding of acupuncture theory, efficacy of such techniques is often short-lived.
This issue is also complicated by the fact that most research into acupuncture and dry needling uses the same points, so it’s important to understand that many “trigger points” coincide with mapped acupuncture points and have actions far beyond the release of simple muscle tension.
“Trigger points can be verified objectively using magnetic resonance or ultrasound elastography or with intramuscular electromyography,”4 - As can acupuncture points - it is unclear in this article if trigger points are described as having the same anatomical structure as acupuncture points.
To get the most out of your “dry needling”, it is important to see a practitioner who understands the deeper framework behind these points, when to safely use trigger point needling, and when to use the other techniques and points to address any underlying issues causing the dysfunction in the first place.
1AAMA Policy on Dry Needling | NCCAOM