Did Janet G. Travell, MD, invent the term “dry needling”?
Although not invented by her, Dr Travell did more to popularize the term than any other figure in US history. More on her role later!
The first published use of the term ‘dry needling’ was in 1947, in an article in The Lancet by John D. Paulett, MRCS. In describing the treatment of 25 cases of low back pain by injection into tender points, Paulett presented the finding that ‘dry needling’ was as effective as injections of anesthetic (procaine) and saline solution.
Paulett might have been aware that a few years prior to this, on the other side of the pond, a 1941 paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine by Ernest A. Brav, MD and Henry Sigmund, MD had presented the same “surprising” finding, but without using the term ‘dry needling.’
Notably, their paper begins with the statement that:
“The origin of the local and regional injection treatment of low back pain and sciatica dates back to the earliest descriptions of acupuncture.”
It is easy to see how standard acupuncture needling, which has a documented history spanning back over millennia, came to be referred to as ‘dry needling’ by practitioners of Western medicine. Injection therapy was widespread at the time this term was coined, and the use of a hypodermic needling without the injection of any liquid is, quite logically, ‘dry.’
It is interesting to speculate about whether, had the geopolitical tables been turned, injection therapy would have come to be known as ‘wet acupuncture’ by practitioners of Chinese medicine!