To settle the debate before it begins, I decided to enroll in a complete, advanced "dry needling" (DN) course designed and taught by physical therapists. Of all the companies teaching the technique, I have the most faith in this one for its commitment to keeping the technique in its lane, so to speak, and not co-opting the larger practice of acupuncture.
So yes, I will soon be certified in DN as defined by physical therapists, and see it as merely another perspective on the techniques in my toolbox. I'll update this page in the future as the training unfolds and give my thoughts on the training, how it might impact my practice, and what I think of PTs using needles in their practice.
What is "dry needling"?
"Dry needling" is essentially trigger point acupuncture with a different name. It is a basic form of acupuncture needling that has gotten a lot of press in recent years as other professions see the value of acupuncture and want to expand their services to include therapeutic needling. (The term is really a misnomer—it refers to needling a trigger point with an empty or "dry" hypodermic needle which is out of scope for physical therapy, so they picked up acupuncture needles years ago instead.) It is only recently legal in the state of Washington for PTs to practice DN after more than a decade of debate that ended in high educational requirements that satisfied the concerns of acupuncturists, your needle experts.
In the acupuncture profession, we sometimes refer to "dry needling" as "ashi" acupuncture, as "ashi" translate as "ah, yes," as in "there it is." The "it" is a hyperirritable location in muscle or other connective tissue. In modern terms, that's called a trigger point. Not all acupuncturists utilize dry needling techniques in their office, but any acupuncturist specializing in the treatment of pain will be very skilled in the techniques. Patients of mine who have had "dry needling" by non-acupuncturists often comment on how much less painful it is in my office.
Why might you want to consider acupuncture plus DN rather than DN alone?
Only a fully-trained acupuncturist has the training and skill to combine ancient theory and knowledge of the multi-systemic effects of acupuncture with a modern understanding of neuroanatomy and muscle physiology in the practice of trigger point needling. It's this systemic approach that sets true acupuncture apart from non-acupuncture practitioners who utilize a more basic and site-specific style of trigger point needling. And an acupuncturist's extensive training, experience, and skill allows them to bring about excellent results with smaller (thinner and more comfortable) needles.
Why do PTs wear gloves and acupuncturists do not?
Acupuncturists are required to pass a "Clean Needle Technique" course that does not require the use of gloves. If we expect to see blood (and that is a minor risk in acupuncture though if we do, it is typically a very small amount), we might don gloves. As noted above, acupuncturists have a very high level of training in needling techniques and can often elicit a desired response with more finesse, hence less damage to tissues (i.e. bleeding).