A pragmatic, single blind, randomised, controlled trial was conducted to test the hypothesis that superficial dry needling (SDN) together with active stretching is more effective than stretching alone, or no treatment, in deactivating trigger points (TrPs) and reducing myofascial pain. Forty patients with musculoskeletal pain, referred by GPs for physiotherapy, fulfilled inclusion/ exclusion criteria for active TrPs. Subjects were randomised into three groups: group 1(n = 14) received superficial dry needling (SDN) and active stretching exercises (G1); group 2 (n = 13) received stretching exercises alone (G2); and group 3 (n = 13) were no treatment controls (G3). During the three-week intervention period for G1 and G2, the number of treatments varied according to the severity of the condition and subject/clinician availability. Assessment was carried out pre-intervention (M1, post-intervention (M2), and at a three-week follow up (M3). Outcome measures were the Short Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (SFMPQ) and Pressure Pain Threshold (PPT) of the primary TrP, using a Fischer algometer. Ninety-one per cent of assessments were blind to grouping. At M2 there were no significant inter-group differences, but at M3, G1 demonstrated significantly improved SFMPQ versus G3 (p = 0 .043) and significantly improved PPT versus G2 (p = 0 .011). There were no differences between G2 and G3. The mean PPT and SFMPQ scores correlated significantly in G1 only, though no significant inter-group differences were demonstrated. Numbers of patients requiring further treatment following the trial were: 6 (G1); 12 (G2); 9 (G3).
Conclusion: SDN followed by active stretching is more effective than stretching alone in deactivating TrPs (reducing their sensitivity to pressure), and more effective than no treatment in reducing subjective pain. Stretching without prior deactivation may increase TrP sensitivity.