In early September, the North Carolina Acupuncture Licensing Board (NCALB) filed a complaint against the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners over the issue of dry needling, a form of acupuncture that uses solid needles to puncture the skin and muscle tissue to relieve pain.The complaint was filed in Wake County Superior Court to "protect the public from the unlicensed practice of acupuncture by physical therapists."
"Acupuncture can only be performed in North Carolina by licensed acupuncturists who have proper training and experience," said Junie Norfleet, NCALB Chair. "We filed this lawsuit to protect the public by preventing individuals with insufficient training from performing acupuncture."
According to NCALB spokesperson Mary Cissy Majebe, the issue goes back to 2014 when the N.C. Board of Physical Therapy Examiners proposed a rule that would have authorized physical therapists to perform acupuncture known as dry needling. In January 2015, the N.C. Rules Review Commission rejected the proposed rule after determining that dry needling is outside the scope of practice of physical therapists in North Carolina. However, despite the ruling, the physical therapy licensing board continues to advice its licensees that they may perform dry needling.
"We tried unsuccessfully to resolve this issue without going to court," said Majebe. "After months of trying to reach an agreement, the physical therapy board withdrew from the discussion. We could not wait any longer for them to return to the table as we are already aware of at least one instance where it has been reported that a patient suffered a punctured lung while receiving treatment from a physical therapist and had to go to the emergency room. We cannot sit idly by while unlicensed individuals without adequate education, clinical training or licensing to perform acupuncture. This is a fundamental issue that needs to be resolved so we can stop the unlicensed practice of acupuncture in and protect the public of North Carolina."
North Carolina physical therapists also call the dry needling technique "trigger point therapy" or "intramuscular stimulation or therapy." This treatment involves the use of FDA-regulated acupuncture needles that are restricted for use only by licensed practitioners of acupuncture. In North Carolina, licensed acupuncturists are required to complete a three year program with an average of 2,732 hours of study which includes extensive supervised clinical training on needle placement, depth and angles, as well as techniques. Physical therapists in North Carolina are performing acupuncture techniques with only 54 hours of continuing education in dry needling and no supervised clinical training.
Acupuncture Today will continue to follow this lawsuit as it makes its way through the North Carolina court system.