Dry needling is not more effective than physical therapy for treating trigger points

Dry needling is a technique in which a needle is used to penetrate the muscle. It’s often used to treat muscle pain in form of myofascial trigger points. Trigger points are hypersensitive spots in the muscle and often felt as nodules in the muscle that produce pain when palpated. Trigger points are commonly found in patients with musculoskeletal pain.

Previous studies have shown that applying dry needling of distal trigger points tend to reduce the pain of proximal trigger points. A hypothesis is that dry needling may activate the pain-inhibiting system descending from the brain or spinal cord.

Although caregivers, like chiropractors, naprapaths, and physiotherapists, tend to treat trigger points with dry needling, the physiological mechanism of dry needling remains to be shown. Also, the short-term and long-term effectiveness of dry needling needs to be examined.

Study outcome

A newly published meta-analysis studied the pain-inhibiting effects, like pressure pain threshold, decreased muscle tone and muscle pain, from dry needling, compared to standard treatment given by physical therapist. The participants were patients with musculoskeletal and myofascial pain (trigger points).

The results suggest that dry needling may help in reducing pain and increasing pain pressure threshold as well as decreasing musculoskeletal pain. However, there was low to moderate-quality evidence that dry needling was more effective than sham (placebo) treatment for reducing pain. Dry needling was not more effective as a treatment when compared to physical therapy.

1. Gattie E. The Effectiveness of Trigger Point Dry Needling for Musculoskeletal Conditions by Physical Therapists: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2017;47(3):133-149.

2. Ziaeifar M. Clinical Effectiveness of Dry Needling Immediately After Application on Myofascial Trigger Point in Upper Trapezius Muscle. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine. 2016;15(4):252-258.

3. Tsai C. 2010;89(2):133-140.


Post provided by @maria_ekblom, a member of #teamEBT. Licensed physiotherapist and personal trainer.

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