Acupuncture and dry needling in the management of myofascial trigger point pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials

Eur J Pain. 2009 Jan;13(1):3-10. doi: 10.1016/j.ejpain.2008.02.006. Epub 2008 Apr 18.


Pain from myofascial trigger points is often treated by needling, with or without injection, although evidence is inconclusive on whether this is effective. We aimed to review the current evidence on needling without injection, by conducting a systematic literature review. We searched electronic databases to identify relevant randomised controlled trials, and included studies where at least one group were treated by needling directly into the myofascial trigger points, and where the control was either no treatment, or usual care; indirect local dry needling or some form of placebo intervention. We extracted data on pain, using VAS scores as the standard. Seven studies were included. One study concluded that direct dry needling was superior to no intervention. Two studies, comparing direct dry needling to needling elsewhere in the muscle, produced contradictory results. Four studies used a placebo control and were included in a meta-analysis. Combining these studies (n=134), needling was not found to be significantly superior to placebo (standardised mean difference, 14.9 [95%CI, -5.81 to 33.99]), however marked statistical heterogeneity was present (I(2)=88%). In conclusion, there is limited evidence deriving from one study that deep needling directly into myofascial trigger points has an overall treatment effect when compared with standardised care. Whilst the result of the meta-analysis of needling compared with placebo controls does not attain statistically significant, the overall direction could be compatible with a treatment effect of dry needling on myofascial trigger point pain. However, the limited sample size and poor quality of these studies highlights and supports the need for large scale, good quality placebo controlled trials in this area.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / therapy*
  • Needles
  • Pain Measurement
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic / standards
  • Reproducibility of Results