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Judge Asked To Settle 'Dry Needling' Dispute

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A regulatory fight between acupuncturists and physical therapists over “dry needling” will be hammered out by a state judge.

In a challenge filed this week, the Florida State Oriental Medical Association is asking a state administrative judge to block a proposed rule that would allow certain physical therapists to begin “dry needling.”

“Dry needling” is a term physical therapists use to describe the technique of inserting filiform needles into the skin at various “trigger points,” which causes certain responses.

In 15-page filing with the Division of Administrative Hearings, attorneys for the oriental medical association argue that “dry needling is acupuncture by another name” and allege that the rule proposed by the Florida Board of Physical Therapy oversteps the board’s authority.

Current law allows physical therapists to practice acupuncture only “when no penetration of the skin occurs,” lawyers for the oriental medical association argued. The proposed rule “expands the legal scope of practice of physical therapy to a scope that is illegal under the statute,” they alleged.

“Physical therapists who practice so-called ‘dry needling’… but who are not licensed to practice acupuncture by the Board of Acupuncture in this state present a danger to the public in Florida and should be prohibited” from the practice, the lawyers wrote.

The Florida Physical Therapy Association, meanwhile, supports the rule, which would allow licensed physical therapists to offer dry needling if they have completed certain training, including an in-person examination of skills related to dry needling.

In correspondence to the Board of Physical Therapy, attorneys for the group said that dry needling doesn’t expand a physical therapist’s scope of practice because therapists are authorized to use apparatuses and equipment on their patients which, they argue, includes needles.

The Board of Physical Therapy proposed the rule in February, after issuing a declaratory statement last summer proclaiming that dry needling falls within a physical therapist’s scope of practice.

The board also gave Rob Stanborough, a St. Augustine physical therapist and owner of First Coast Rehabilitation, authority to begin offering dry needling services.

Stanborough, who also teaches dry-needling techniques for the Myopain Seminars company, is the only physical therapist in the state who has been authorized to perform the procedure.

But the acupuncturists’ association maintains the proposed rule “will allow parties unlicensed to practice acupuncture that penetrates the skin to, in fact, practice acupuncture that penetrates the skin, thereby taking patients in need of acupuncture and desiring acupuncture away from licensed acupuncturists.”