For physical therapists, it’s important to know what dry needling is, and what it is not. The procedure has come under scrutiny by state regulatory boards, legislatures and agencies, questioning whether or not it is legal and professional for physical therapists to perform. As a physical therapist, you should understand the training required to perform dry needling effectively. You must also be familiar with your facility’s policy regarding this procedure.
What is it?
Dry needling, also known as Intramuscular Manual Therapy (IMT), trigger point needling, and intramuscular needling, is the process of inserting a solid filament needle (rather than a hollow injection needle) into a patient’s skin for the purposes of therapy. Dry needling causes an involuntary muscle twitch that helps relax the trigger point. It is not the same as acupuncture. This is because physical therapists use dry needling solely for the purposes of improving patients’ functioning, rather than for treatments to aid smoking cessation, depression, or chronic pain, etc.
Dry needling can help a physical therapist relieve a patient’s muscular pain, reduce scarring and improve neuromuscular firing problems. The procedure attempts to desensitize myofascial trigger points in the muscles. It can be used by physical therapists to treat the following (including but not limited to):
- Stress injuries
- Neck pain and headaches
- Rotator cuff impingement
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Muscle strains
- Plantar fasciitis
Many state physical therapy boards argue that because the procedure falls within the definition of physical therapy, it is an acceptable treatment. It is still a relatively new procedure performed by physical therapists in the United States.
Dry needling may not be appropriate for entry-level physical therapists, and is considered by some state boards to be an advanced skill. It’s important to check the policy at your facility regarding dry needling, and stay up to date with the professional opinion of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). You may be required to become credentialed in dry needling to perform this procedure at your practice.
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