N.C. Supreme Court sides with physical therapy board in fight over ‘dry needling’

A unanimous N.C. Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling favoring the state’s physical therapy board in a fight over regulation of “dry needling.” The ruling means that N.C. physical therapists can provide dry needling treatment.

The 7-0 decision affirms the N.C. Business Court’s August 2017 ruling that the N.C. Board of Physical Therapy Examiners has the power to regulate dry needling. The physical therapy board had been fighting the N.C. Acupuncture Licensing Board over the issue.

Dry needling involves inserting needles “into specific trigger points in a patient’s muscle tissue to relieve pain,” as the Supreme Court opinion explains. The acupuncture board argued that dry needling is a form of acupuncture and off limits to physical therapists who do not have acupuncture licenses.

In what could end up being her latest written opinion, outgoing Justice Barbara Jackson makes the following observation about the physical therapy board:

The General Assembly specifically expressed that the “powers and duties enumerated [for the Board] are granted for the purpose of enabling the Board to safeguard the public health, safety and welfare against unqualified or incompetent practitioners of physical therapy, and are to be liberally construed to accomplish this objective.” This language vests the Board with broad authority to regulate the practice of physical therapy and adopt administrative rules and regulations governing the profession. Although not dispositive, the Physical Therapy Board’s construction of the statutory term “physical therapy” so as to encompass dry needling is persuasive authority for this Court.

The issue has attracted legislative attention. Carolina Journal‘s Dan Way reported on the issue in January.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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