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A mixed-methods survey of physiotherapists who practice acupuncture and dry needling in Ontario, Canada: practice characteristics, motivations, and professional outcomes

BMC Complement Med Ther. 2021 Oct 19;21(1):264. doi: 10.1186/s12906-021-03440-w.


BACKGROUND: Physiotherapists (PTs) across the globe are increasingly incorporating filiform needling techniques (e.g., acupuncture, dry needling) into their clinical toolkits; and, the evidence base for these complementary therapies is becoming progressively more robust. However, to date, little is known about needling PTs themselves.

METHODS: Using a cross-sectional survey design, PTs authorized to perform needling therapies in Ontario, Canada were recruited for anonymous participation (n = 2061) in an online survey. The survey asked providers about their demographics and practice characteristics, rationale for and views about therapeutic needling, and their related clinical and professional outcomes. The response rate was 20.7% (n = 426), and 22.3% (n = 95) of respondents provided textual responses to an open-ended qualitative question.

RESULTS: While study respondents’ demographic features appear similar to their broader professional population, Ontario’s needling PTs are less likely to work in public sector settings. Most completed training in medical acupuncture rather than dry needling, and typically used needling in over one-third of patient visits. Almost all endorsed needling as an effective musculoskeletal treatment, the primary factor informing their adoption of the practice. While many viewed traditional Chinese medical theories as a useful explanatory framework, most relied on biomedical epistemology to drive their needling work. A majority of respondents reported that the inclusion of needling within their clinical toolkits had improved their likelihood of achieving excellent clinical results, helped support patient recruitment and retention, and heightened their professional satisfaction. While a few reported earning a higher income as a result, most reported that their clinical use of needling in addition to other PT modalities reduced their physical fatigue after a day’s work.

CONCLUSIONS: This study represents a first scholarly investigation into the motivations, training backgrounds and practice patterns of PTs who use acupuncture or dry needling. Additional research from other jurisdictions is needed to evaluate the transferability of study findings.

PMID:34666749 | DOI:10.1186/s12906-021-03440-w


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