If you are a physical therapist (PT) and are interested in treating myofascial trigger points with dry needling, there may be some issues that you should be aware of. Currently, the practice is legal in most states, but regulations vary widely.
The practice of dry needling involves inserting solid filiform needles into muscle tissue to stimulate myofascial trigger points and alleviate pain. It is practiced by a variety of practitioners including physical therapists, occupational therapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, physicians, dentists, and athletic trainers.
In recent years, there has been an increased interest in incorporating dry needling into musculoskeletal treatment plans. However, the use of these needles carries inherent risks including perforation of the lungs and internal organs, as well as potential infections.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), there is limited scientific evidence supporting the effectiveness of dry needling as a standalone therapy. Rather, it is recommended to be used in conjunction with other treatment methods such as manual soft tissue mobilization, neuromuscular re-education, functional movement retraining, and therapeutic exercise.
In addition, some states such as New York have banned the use of dry needling in physical therapy due to the belief that it is considered acupuncture and should be performed by licensed acupuncturists or medical doctors. Regardless of the current state of affairs, this debate raises important questions about scope of practice and patient safety. We encourage you to review the following information regarding the legality of dry needling in your state and to discuss any concerns with your treating clinician.