In this November 30, 2013 photo, 17-year-old professional freeskier Torin Yater-Wallace gives the thumbs-down sign from his hospital bed at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, Colorado, while recovering from surgery for a traumatic pneumothorax (an accumulation of air in the pleural cavity resulting from blunt or penetrating chest injury and causing partial or complete lung collapse) that he suffered after a physical therapist punctured his right lung with an acupuncture needle. (Photo: @TorinWallace)
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Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is a surgical operation (1–4) in which an acupuncture point (a specific muscle or connective tissue site) is punctured with an acupuncture needle (a fine needle) to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent disease or other conditions (1). Acupuncture is based on anatomy, physiology, and pathology (1,5–12).
Dry needling is acupuncture in which an acupuncture point that has become exquisitely tender, commonly known in the West as a trigger point, is punctured with an acupuncture needle to cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent disease or other conditions, especially musculoskeletal and connective tissue disorders, including musculoskeletal pain (1). An acupuncture point that has become exquisitely tender is identiﬁed by a flinch reaction on palpation (1).
Dry needling is not new. It was described in the first century BCE in the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (黃帝內經 [Huáng Dì nèi jīng]), the foundational text of Chinese medicine (1).
As exposed by the Dry Needling Adverse Event Tracking System map, dry needling is unsafe when performed by unqualified practitioners of acupuncture, such as physical therapists.
Dry Needling Adverse Event Tracking System Map
To see some of the serious adverse events from dry needling performed by unqualified practitioners of acupuncture, such as physical therapists, click on the red-colored states in the map.
The map was updated on January 8, 2018.
To report serious adverse events from dry needling performed by unqualified practitioners of acupuncture, such as physical therapists, use the Dry Needling Adverse Event Reporting System form. The information will be shared with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and will be published on the National Center for Acupuncture Safety and Integrity (NCASI) website.
An acupuncture needle is a restricted medical device under section 520(e) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (the FD&C Act) (21 U.S.C. § 360j(e)) (14).
The sale, distribution, and use of an acupuncture needle are restricted “to prescription use” (15). In addition, the sale, distribution, and use of an acupuncture needle are further restricted “to qualified practitioners of acupuncture as determined by the States” (16). FDA has determined that these restrictions on sale, distribution, and use are necessary “to provide reasonable assurance of the safety and effectiveness of” an acupuncture needle (15).
It bears repeating: It is a violation of Federal law when unqualified practitioners of acupuncture, such as physical therapists, purchase, possess, or use an acupuncture needle (13).
Yellow Emperor’s inner classic (黃帝內經 [Huáng Dì nèi jīng]). China; compiled in the first century BCE.
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Davidson T. Chambers’s twentieth century dictionary of the English language: pronouncing, explanatory, etymological, with compound phrases, technical terms in use in the arts and sciences, colloquialisms, full appendices, and copiously illustrated. London: W. and R. Chambers; 1903.
Ban B, Ban G, Ban Z. Book of Han (漢書 [Hàn shū]). China; 111.
Zhu J. Drawings of Ou Xi Fan’s five viscera (歐希范五臟圖 [Ōu Xī Fàn wǔ zàng tú]). China; 1041–1048.
Yang J. Drawings for preserving the truth (存真圖 [Cún zhēn tú]). China; 1102–1106.
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Shaw V, McLennan AK. Was acupuncture developed by Han Dynasty Chinese anatomists? Anat Rec. 2016;299(5):643–659.