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Op-Ed: Lawmakers Should Reject Training Shortcut for Dry-Needling

Acupuncturists oppose bill pending before the state Assembly that allows physical therapists to engage in ‘dry needling’ with just 80 hours of training

Jason Sargis
Jason Sargis

In New Jersey, acupuncture is a highly-regulated practice requiring at least 2,500 hours of education and training in addition to a bachelor’s degree. Now, the New Jersey Assembly is considering legislation (A-392) to allow physical therapists to perform the same invasive procedure, rebranded as “dry needling,” with just 80 hours of training.

The fact that “dry needling” is simply acupuncture was brought into stark relief this week when physical therapists testifying at an Assembly committee hearing were repeatedly unable to answer the committee’s questions about what the difference is between the two.

That’s because “dry needling” is acupuncture. Calling acupuncture “dry needling” doesn’t change the fact that it uses the same, medical-grade acupuncture needles — the only filiform needle regulated by the FDA — to puncture the skin and place the needles at the same trigger points to relieve pain.

As acupuncturists, we welcome physical therapists into our field with open arms. In fact, physical therapists have gained licenses in and practiced acupuncture for years. The proposed legislation, however, would circumvent the licensing standards in New Jersey law designed to protect patients by creating two classes of acupuncturists — those with 2,500 hours of training and education, and those with just 80 hours.

Undercutting training standards

Other invasive practices like tattooing and body piercing require 2,000 hours and 1,000 hours of training, respectively, so the idea of allowing this invasive technique with a fraction of the training is alarming. Even medical doctors — who, unlike physical therapists, already have extensive training in invasive procedures — require 300 hours of additional training to perform acupuncture. Let’s make no mistake about it: Physical therapists do not even come close to the training of medical doctors.

It’s not just my opinion that those performing so-called “dry needling” should be held to the same standards as everyone else. The American Medical Association has taken the official position that “Physical therapists and other non-physicians practicing dry needling should — at a minimum — have standards that are similar to the ones for training certification and continuing education that exist for acupuncture.”

In other states where standards have been lowered to permit acupuncture under the name “dry needling” without sufficient training, patients have suffered from punctured lungs, spinal-cord and nerve damage, among other injuries. There is no good reason for New Jersey to repeat the same mistake, and we urge the Legislature to reject any shortcuts that would put patient care at stake.

Jason Sargis is a licensed acupuncturist who also serves as the president of the NJ Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NJAAOM).

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