Why Is Dry Needling Illegal

needles in persons body

Dry needling has been a widespread practice to reduce muscle inflammation and pain for centuries. The process takes 10 seconds to 20 minutes, depending on the muscle’s condition; patients often experience immediate pain relief, making dry needling a preferred treatment among many. However, dry needling is not allowed in many states in the US now. It has led to a common concern among practitioners and patients. But “Why is dry needling illegal?”

What is Dry Needling

Dry needling is a pain management technique like acupuncture that uses thin needles to alleviate pain. The therapist inserts the needles into trigger points to decrease tightness and improve blood flow, which eventually helps manage pain. If you’re thinking, “Does dry needling hurt?” the process is usually painless as the needles are tiny, and dry needling is not lengthy.

It does not involve the use of medication, and the needles are inserted into or near the trigger point. Thus, the name “dry needling.”

National Regulation Regarding Dry Needling

The scope and legality regarding dry needling varies massively throughout the country. Though some states do not allow the procedure now, national laws do not disregard dry needling by physical therapists. 

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) mentions that dry needling falls within a physical therapist’s scope of field. 

Is Dry Needling Illegal?

As the process seems quite similar to acupuncture, it is not legal in some parts of the US depending on the practitioner. If you wonder, “Where is dry needling illegal?” five states in the US do not allow physical therapists to perform dry needling.

As of 2023, New York, Hawaii, Washington, California, and Oregon have outlawed the practice, which is illegal in these states. So, physical therapists in these five states can no longer perform dry needling. Furthermore, Michigan, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts have no specific laws about dry needling.

Why is Dry Needling Illegal?

Dry needling is illegal in some states as it has been practiced by physical therapists, but now it is believed that it comes under acupuncture. Physical therapists require additional training and information to perform dry needling. Thus, they cannot perform dry needling in these five states as it may compromise patient safety. 

persons hand holding needle

Acupuncture Vs. Dry Needling

The debate on dry needling has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry as physical therapists and acupuncturists came face-to-face with the controversy. Many people wonder, “Is dry needling the same as acupuncture?” when going for dry needling.

Physical therapists who have been performing dry needling mention that they know the practice and trigger points, enabling them to relieve pain through dry needling. Dry needling combined with physical therapy allows therapists to offer patients a comprehensive chronic pain management solution. 

At the same time, acupuncturists mention that dry needling is a part of acupuncture and does not fall under the scope of work of physical therapists. They say that Acupuncture Physical Medicine (APM) is what physical and chiropractors call dry needling. It uses the proper technique on painful muscles to release tightness and pain. So, physical therapists must not be allowed to carry out the procedure without adequate dry needling certification and knowledge. 

Furthermore, Seirin, the world’s leading manufacturer of acupuncture needles, also mentions: “Use (of acupuncture needles) by individuals other than licensed physicians or acupuncturists may lead to serious injury.”

Legal Issues Regarding Dry Needling

The legal issues around dry needling come from different legislative acts and requirements for dry needling. Some of them are:

Invasive Procedure: Physical therapists are allowed to carry out manual therapy, whereas dry needling can be categorized as an invasive procedure. 

Acupuncture Practice Acts: Acupuncture Practice Acts in some states mention that acupuncture also includes dry needling, restricting other healthcare practitioners from performing it.

Requires Supervision: Some states allow dry needling under supervision, but physical therapists do not have physicians to oversee the process. 

What are the Potential Side Effects of Dry Needling?

Dry needling must be carried out by a professional, or it may result in potential side effects on the site of acupuncture, like bruising and stiffness. Some patients also report fatigue and fainting due to stress or low tolerance.

Everyone may not experience these side effects, varying from patient to patient.

Facts about Dry Needling 

  • Dry needling is a type of acupuncture that helps relieve pain using thin needles. 
  • It has been used for over 2,000 years to treat painful muscles.
  • Trigger points or motor points are actually acupuncture points.
  • Dry needling is an invasive procedure involving needle insertion and not manual therapy.
  • Physical therapists and other health professionals not licensed to practice acupuncture cannot legally purchase acupuncture or dry needling needles.

Consequences of Laws against Dry Needling

Dry needling has been the treatment of choice for patients with muscle pain, and the recent regulations are leading to problems for them. As physical therapists cannot perform dry needling in particular states, people must look for acupuncturists authorized to perform the procedure.

Due to a sudden spike in demand, many patients are unable to find timely appointments and have to rely on less suitable therapies. Yet it will also encourage research into alternative treatment methods, and practitioners might obtain the required licensing to perform dry needling.

How to Obtain an Acupuncture License?

Most physical therapists have stopped performing dry needling and do not wish to get an acupuncture license because of the strenuous process. Here’s how you can get an acupuncture license:

  • Get a three-year degree in Acupuncture from a recognized institute
  • Take and pass national board exams
  • Attempt and clear a state exam and/ or complete observation hours

The Bottom Line

Dry needling has been used for pain management for centuries. In the US, physical therapists use dry needling and a physical therapy routine to help relieve pain. However, some states have outlawed the practice, and physical therapists cannot perform dry needling in five American states now. If you wonder, “Why is dry needling illegal?” it is because dry needling is a part of acupuncture, and physical therapists are not licensed for acupuncture. So, physical therapists in New York, Hawaii, Washington, California, and Oregon cannot perform dry needling now.


Why is dry needling illegal in California?

Dry needling is illegal in California because of safety issues that may arise from untrained physical therapists providing the service to their patients. It may lead to side effects and complications. 

Why is dry needling illegal in New York?

Dry needling is illegal in New York for safety reasons as well as to prevent physical therapists from performing invasive acupuncture procedures without proper education and training.

Does dry needling hurt?

Dry needling does not hurt much, as the needles are really thin. Sometimes, the patient might feel a prick or slight discomfort during the procedure. 

What happens when dry needling hits a nerve?

Though dry needling does not target nerves but muscles, the needle may hit a nerve accidentally, leading to numbness, tingling, or pain. 

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