After a nearly 4-year battle, physical therapists (PTs) in North Carolina can finally claim victory in their fight to protect dry needling: last week, the state's acupuncture licensing board relented on its attempt to restrict the intervention, signing off on a settlement agreement in federal district court that acknowledges dry needling as a part of the PT scope of practice in the state. The settlement is a decisive win for APTA’s state chapter, the North Carolina Physical Therapy Association (NCPTA), as well as for APTA, which provided support for the chapter's efforts.
The agreement effectively ends a lawsuit brought by 4 PTs and 2 patients against the North Carolina Acupuncture Licensing Board (NCALB) in October 2015. That lawsuit asserted the NCALB's efforts to prevent PTs from engaging in dry needling—efforts that included issuing "cease and desist" letters to PTs who perform dry needling and threats that they would be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor for violating federal antitrust laws.
The lawsuit continued in court for the next 3 years, surviving the NCALB's attempts to get the case thrown out. Dry needling was also at issue in a September 2015 suit filed against the state's physical therapy licensing board by the NCALB, which sought to have a county superior court declare that dry needling is outside the scope of PT practice. That suit eventually wound up in the state's Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's ruling that dry needling was part of PT practice in the state. The agreement reached in the federal case applies to current and future acupuncture boards, and includes a monetary settlement to the plaintiffs.
"The Acupuncture Board finally yielded to the NCPTA's demands," said NCPTA President J. Kyle Covington, PT, DPT, PhD, in an online statement. "This tremendous victory—including the monetary settlement—sends a powerful message to those would seek to prevent our patients from receiving the treatment they need: no matter how tough the fight, no matter how long it takes, NCPTA will always stand up for our patients' access to care."
At the national level, APTA assisted the North Carolina Chapter during the fight, as did other APTA components and individual members.
APTA Director of State Affairs Angela Shuman says the decisive victory is a testament to both the validity of dry needling as a legitimate component of PT practice and the commitment of PTs, the North Carolina Chapter of APTA, and the association as a whole.
"This is a major win for patients and physical therapists in North Carolina," Shuman said. "But it could not have been achieved without some amazingly hard word by the North Carolina Chapter and its members, and APTA is proud of what they have accomplished."