Recently, physical therapists (PTs) have added acupuncture to their repertoire in order to help treat musculoskeletal problems. PTs call their style of acupuncture “dry needling” and the law allows them to use it to release “trigger points”. A few PTs will use this acupuncture technique for other reasons, but they are operating illegally, outside their scope of practice. Many people have noticed a quiet battle building over this topic and have begun to ask the question: “What is the controversy with PTs using ‘dry needling’?”
On one hand, PTs are highly educated and well trained practitioners, especially with regard to the musculoskeletal system. They do a wonderful job of helping people with chronic pain, rehabbing after injury or surgery, and in general, helping with soft tissue problems. However, over the years some PTs have realized that although their techniques are great, they fall short when it comes to addressing inflammation.
Seeing that acupuncture does a fantastic job of treating inflammation, it made sense to add it to their protocols. Proper acupuncture training takes a great deal of time, money, and effort. Rather than going to all that expense and trouble, they decided that their training is mostly adequate and they need only a weekend course to be properly trained. They say that since they use acupuncture in a very limited fashion
that they don’t need much extra training. This is the source of most of the controversy.
Acupuncturist maintain that one must get proper training on needle depth, insertion angle, local anatomy, and needle stimulation to provide an effective and safe treatment. A weekend course is not adequate time to provide this information and training. We worry that PTs will injure both clients and acupuncture’s wonderful safety record due to their willful ignorance. We believe that at their best, PTs are only mediocre at using acupuncture and at worst, downright dangerous. In fact, a couple of bad injuries have already occurred involving PTs and acupuncture causing pneumothorax (a punctured lung).
Political entities have decided on a wait and see approach, hoping that the problem between the two professions will diffuse on its own accord. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case, and it looks like there will be some lawsuits in the near future to decide the issue.
Time will tell if PTs will be allowed to continue using acupuncture as part of their scope of practice or be required to get adequate training. Until then, I would recommend sticking to us, the acupuncture experts for your acupuncture needs.