Patient awareness: Acupuncture and Dry Needling

Some patients have told me that their neighbors or friends had said that their physical therapists would soon be offering dry needling that they would rather wait for that instead of coming for acupuncture. Or their physical therapist already offered dry needling treatments and they would rather go to him/her. 

I find the situation with dry needling performed by people with very little training extremely alarming.

Dry needling is the term used by physical therapists to describe trigger point needling.  Dry needling or trigger point needling means inserting (acupuncture) needles into muscle knots called trigger points to release muscle tightness and alleviate pain. (The term “dry” is used to describe the procedure because no liquid is injected into the site while using the needles). Dry needling focuses on muscle knots rather than using acupuncture points along meridians.  To add to the confusion, many acupuncture points and known trigger point locations often overlap with one another. 

Laws regarding dry needling vary from state to state.  In New York, it is illegal for physical therapists to perform dry needling since puncturing skin (with needles) is not in the scope of their practice.  In New Jersey, physical therapists were recently granted the right to perform dry needling.  Currently, at least 37 states in the US allow physical therapists to perform dry needling.  What is alarming about this trend is that in many states very little training is required for physical therapists to perform dry needling.  Sometimes one or two weekend courses are enough to satisfy the requirements if any.  Unfortunately, these courses may also be taught by those who have very little training themselves.  Too often, I find news about patients developing pneumothorax (puncture of the lungs) after dry needling.  Some of you may remember the national female soccer player from UK had to retire soon after a self-proclaimed “expert” performed acupuncture on her and caused pneumothorax.  If you keep reading the article, it turns out that the “expert” was not a trained acupuncturist.  (Problem is, in UK almost anybody can perform acupuncture.)  I also see pictures of dry needling in Facebook or other social media.  In trained eyes of an acupuncturist, those pictures look like accidents waiting to happen. 

Proper training for any professional who is going to insert acupuncture needles into a patient should be similar or equal to traditional acupuncture training.  Licensed acupuncturists in most states undergo over 250 hours of training and take exams and get certified by NCCAOM after graduating from acupuncture schools.  Some of us received additional training in trigger point needling (dry needling) like myself.  For the 3 years while I was in the school, in addition to education and training based on TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), I was trained in trigger point needling by renowned Dr. Mark Seem from the Tri-State College of Acupuncture as well as Japanese style acupuncture developed by Kiiko Matsumoto. Safety of patients should be the primary concern for both acupuncturists and physical therapists.  However, as a patient, if you decide to receive dry needling in NY state, please contact your therapist or acupuncturist beforehand to see if they have all the necessary training in trigger point needling to suite your needs.  In New Jersey and other states in which physical therapists are allowed to dry needle, as a patient, please ask many questions about their training in dry needling, safe skills and length of their practice in dry needling.

Skip to content