Acupuncturists Prevail at Oregon Court of Appeals

The issue came down to whether chiropractors could perform dry needling after having 24 hours of training.

The Oregon Board of Chiropractic Examiners has lost its battle with the state’s 1,200 licensed acupuncturists after attempting to invade their scope of practice.

That crushing defeat could have led its executive director, Dave McTeague, to announce his resignation effective July 1. His board is how seeking applicants to fill that role.

Under McTeague’s leadership, the chiropractic board adopted an administrative rule in May 2011 allowing its professionals to perform acupuncture after completing 24 hours of training --- calling the procedure dry needling -- to relieve muscular pain by inserting solid stainless steel needles into a patient’s body.

But once the Oregon Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine got wind of what had happened, they didn’t hesitate to take legal action.

Now, after three years of legal entanglements, the acupuncturists have prevailed, when the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled in their favor. “Dry needling is not within the practice of chiropractic...and the rule thus exceeds the scope of the board's statutory authority,” according to the ruling.

However, it wasn’t until 10 days ago that the association’s president, Beth Howlett, MAcOM, Lac, could breathe a sigh of relief. After the ruling, the chiropractic board considered asked for an extension and considered taking the case to the Oregon Supreme Court, but finally backed off.

Throughout the process, the board didn’t act alone, and was joined by the University of Western States, a chiropractic college in northeast Portland and John L. V. Platt, D.C., P.C., owner of the Woodstock Chiropractic Clinic.

“This came down to a patient safety issue,” Howlett told The Lund Report. “Dry needling is acupuncture and should be regulated and licensed according to Oregon’s existing practice act. Licensed acupuncturists are required to have over 700 hours of supervised training. I’m glad to have this behind us. While I am grateful for this decision in our professions’ favor, I look forward to the future where the focus is on collaboration across disciplines in the area of non-discrimination and patient access to all healthcare provider types.”

The legal fight was costly for both sides, and the acupuncturists association has a petition pending before the chiropractic board to seek the recovery of legal costs, Howlett said.

The board itself spent at $20,000 to defend their administrative rule, according to someone familiar with the lawsuit who preferred not to disclose their name.

“That money would no doubt have been better spent policing the profession. At least once while the case was pending the board went to the legislature to ask for money in addition to their budget to make up for shortfalls. I fail to see the need for the rule in the first place. I believe it was done, at least in part, to palliate chiropractors who believe the purpose of the board is to support the chiropractic profession. The Board’s first duty is to protect the public. The only way a rule allowing dry needling into the chiropractic scope of practice protects the public is that it requires chiropractors to become certified in the technique.” 

Howlett, who couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of the lawsuit, said the court’s decision has potential implications not just for licensed acupuncturists in Oregon, but for legislative and legal challenges happening across the nation.. The precedent, she said, may assist in a legal challenge filed last October by the South Sound Acupuncture Association in Washington against Kinetacore, a for-profit company based in Colorado that offers weekend workshops on “dry needling” to physical therapists, chiropractors and others.

“Most patients don’t study the laws regarding what types of practitioners can actually practice acupuncture,” she added. “All they see is an acupuncture needle and they think, ‘acupuncture.’ In the case of dry needling patients are at best misled that a weekend seminar is comparable to the over 700 hours of clinically supervised training obtained by acupuncturists. At worst, they are potentially harmed by a needle in the hands of a practitioner with insufficient training. The Oregon Court of Appeals decision is a victory for patient safety.”

Diane can be reached at

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