Comparison of the short-term outcomes between trigger point dry needling and trigger point manual therapy for the management of chronic mechanical neck pain: a randomized clinical trial

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2014 Nov;44(11):852-61. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2014.5229. Epub 2014 Sep 30.


Study design: Randomized clinical study.

Objectives: To compare the effects of trigger point (TrP) dry needling (DN) and TrP manual therapy (MT) on pain, function, pressure pain sensitivity, and cervical range of motion in subjects with chronic mechanical neck pain.

Background: Recent evidence suggests that TrP DN could be effective in the treatment of neck pain. However, no studies have directly compared the outcomes of TrP DN and TrP MT in this population.

Methods: Ninety-four patients (mean ± SD age, 31 ± 3 years; 66% female) were randomized into a TrP DN group (n = 47) or a TrP MT group (n = 47). Neck pain intensity (11-point numeric pain rating scale), cervical range of motion, and pressure pain thresholds (PPTs) over the spinous process of C7 were measured at baseline, postintervention, and at follow-ups of 1 week and 2 weeks after treatment. The Spanish version of the Northwick Park Neck Pain Questionnaire was used to measure disability/function at baseline and the 2-week follow-up. Mixed-model, repeated-measures analyses of variance (ANOVAs) were used to determine if a time-by-group interaction existed on the effects of the treatment on each outcome variable, with time as the within-subject variable and group as the between-subject variable.

Results: The ANOVA revealed that participants who received TrP DN had outcomes similar to those who received TrP MT in terms of pain, function, and cervical range of motion. The 4-by-2 mixed-model ANOVA also revealed a significant time-by-group interaction (P<.001) for PPT: patients who received TrP DN experienced a greater increase in PPT (decreased pressure sensitivity) than those who received TrP MT at all follow-up periods (between-group differences: posttreatment, 59.0 kPa; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 40.0, 69.2; 1-week follow-up, 69.2 kPa; 95% CI: 49.5, 79.1; 2-week follow-up, 78.9 kPa; 95% CI: 49.5, 89.0).

Conclusion: The results of this clinical trial suggest that 2 sessions of TrP DN and TrP MT resulted in similar outcomes in terms of pain, disability, and cervical range of motion. Those in the TrP DN group experienced greater improvements in PPT over the cervical spine. Future trials are needed to examine the effects of TrP DN and TrP MT over long-term follow-up periods.

Level of evidence: Therapy, level 1b.

Keywords: dry needling; manual therapy; neck pain; trigger points.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Acupuncture Therapy*
  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Musculoskeletal Manipulations*
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Range of Motion, Articular / physiology
  • Trigger Points*