Protect the Public from Permanent Injury due to “Dry Needling” by Inadequately Trained PTs

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Colorado State Senators and House Representatives:  Protect the Public from Permanent Injury due to “Dry Needling” by Inadequately Trained Physical Therapists in Colorado

Do you know what “dry-needling” is?   It is acupuncture.  

The American Medical Association (AMA) confirms it.  But, physical therapists in Colorado are using the term “dry needling” to practice acupuncture without having to meet state-required education and training standards for it. 

Do you know that Colorado has the highest percentage of serious dry-needling injuries caused by physical therapists in the United States? 

At least 34 serious “dry needling” injuries caused by non-acupuncturists have occurred in the United States in recent years.  The number jumped exponentially from 1 injury between the years of 2005-2009 to at least 21 injuries during 2010-2014.  At least 6 documented injuries, up to 20% have occurred in Colorado.

What kinds of injuries?  Collapsed lungs (requiring surgery and hospitalization), permanent bowel dysfunction (such as incessant diarrhea), permanent partial paralysis, permanent loss of limb function, permanent nerve damage, and more.

A physical therapist, with no training whatsoever in the insertion of acupuncture needles, can walk into weekend course on Friday and start inserting acupuncture needles up to half-a-foot long (6 inches) into patients on Monday morning. 

There are NO national education standards, training standards, certification exams, accredited programs or schools for dry needling.  None.  That is why we are seeing these injuries. 

Here are few examples of recent serious dry needling injuries:

●     In Colorado in November 2013, 17-year-old professional freeskier Torin Yater-Wallace suffered a penetrating right lung injury caused by a physical therapist performing dry needling. The injury resulted in a traumatic pneumothorax (a collapsed lung). He was treated for the traumatic pneumothorax at the emergency department of the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, Colorado, and was admitted to that hospital on the same day. The traumatic pneumothorax required medical and surgical intervention. He was hospitalized for five days.

Colorado resident 17-yr-old Torin Yater-Wallace hospitalized after dry needling by an inadequately trained physical therapist

●     In Boulder, Colorado on April 30, 2015, a woman’s left lung was punctured by a physical therapist.  After experiencing pain and vomiting, she went to the emergency room at Good Samaritan hospital.  Multiple tests were conducted and imaging scans showed a collapsed left lung.  She required surgery and three days of hospitalization, plus four days of bed rest.  She lost five days of work and had to cancel a trip to Hawaii among other birthday plans.  Her physical therapist denied any responsibility for the event.

●     In Colorado in June 2015, 41-year-old clinical social worker Lisa Kerscher suffered a penetrating lung injury caused by a physical therapist performing dry needling. The lung injury resulted in a collapsed lung. She was treated at the emergency department of the Rose Medical Center in Denver, Colorado.

●     In February 2016 in Ohio, 47-year-old Anong Pipatjarasgit suffered a penetrating thoracic spinal cord injury caused by a physical therapist performing dry needling. The injury resulted in a traumatic spinal epidural hematoma (an accumulation of blood in the spinal epidural space). She was treated for the spinal hematoma at the emergency department of the ProMedica Toledo Hospital in Toledo, Ohio, and was admitted to that hospital on the same day, requiring medical and surgical intervention.  After recovering from emergency surgical decompression and evacuation of the hematoma, she underwent extensive inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. She now has permanent severe neurologic problems, including paraparesis (partial paralysis of the lower limbs), sensory deficits, bowel dysfunction, and persistent severe back pain.

●     In Colorado, Duane Fenton, PA-C at Western Orthopaedics in Denver had to surgically remove an acupuncture needle from a patient’s shoulder after a physical therapist broke the needle off in the patient’s bone.

●     In January 2018, a case study documented permanent radial nerve injury to a 27-year-old female receptionist by a physiotherapist practicing dry needling in Ireland.  Despite intensive rehabilitation, she remains permanently unable to flex or lift her left wrist.  Are we really going to do nothing and wait for this to happen to one of our own Colorado citizens, a working mother who will no longer be able to lift her toddler?

27-yr-old woman with permanent nerve damage due to dry needling by an inadequately trained physiotherapist (physical therapist)

With proper education and training, these injuries are preventable.  Because of the inherent risks of acupuncture needles, acupuncturists in Colorado are required to have over 1,905 hours of training, including a minimum of 705 hours of acupuncture-specific education (during which acupuncturists learn needle insertion angle, needle length, indications, and warnings for each of thousands of points), and a minimum of 660 hours of clinical needling observation and supervised needling internship.  (These numbers are in addition to the medical courses acupuncturists share with other doctorate-level medical colleagues, such as anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry.)  The mere 23 hours of training the Physical Therapy Board requires before physical therapists start inserting acupuncture needles into the public is a significant risk to public safety.

Again, the above-listed hours are the minimum standards and should be upheld as such.  Most acupuncturists actually have nearly double the aforementioned amount of education.  Many graduate with 3500-4500 hours of doctoral-level training and hold doctorate degrees.  All of that education and training is relevant to the safe and effective practice of acupuncture.

Education and training standards exist for public safety.

Do electrician license requirements unfairly limit plumbers from doing electrical wiring in an innocent person’s home?  Of course not. Plumbers who want to do electrical wiring simply need to get their electrical license. 

Professional medical standards protect the public. 

This issue is about holding medical professionals to their pledge to:  “Do no harm.” 

This issue is about putting innocent people before quick profits.  This issue is about making sure health professionals are adequately trained in how to use specialized tools and perform acupuncture before they permanently damage unsuspecting Colorado citizens.

Dry needling IS acupuncture.  It is an acupuncture needle inserted into an acupuncture point. 

We want the Colorado legislature to remove amendment L.001, the “Dry Needling Amendment” from HB18-1155, the Physical Therapy Practice Act renewal bill.  This would remove all “dry needling” language from the Bill. 

It would not change the current practice of Physical Therapy in Colorado. 

There is one final very important consideration: 

Amendment L.001 and the other amendments that add "dry needling" language attempt to circumvent the civil right to appeal.

There is currently a judicial appeal regarding the insufficient training required for physical therapists practicing acupuncture (i.e., dry needling) in Colorado. This last minute attempt to add "dry needling" to scope of practice is an attempt to circumvent the judicial process. Removing Amendment L.001 and all other amendments with "dry needling" language from HB18-1155 honors the right to civil appeal before the courts and will let the courts decide this issue.

With this petition, we ask our Colorado State House Representatives and Senators to please remove Amendment L.001 and all other amendments with "dry needling" language from HB18-1155 in the interest of public safety, and out of respect for the civil right to appeal before the courts.



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