Background and purpose: Lateral thigh pain, commonly referred to as greater trochanteric pain syndrome (GTPS) and/ or iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) is commonly treated by the physical therapist. Lateral thigh pain is commonly treated by the physical therapist. The sources of lateral thigh pain are commonly attributed to GTPS and/ or ITBS though various pathologies may contribute to this pain, of which trigger points (TrPs) may be an etiology. Dry needling (DN) is an intervention utilized by physical therapists where a monofilament needle is inserted into soft tissue in order to reduce pain to improve range of motion/ motor control dysfunction. This can assist with facilitation of return to prior level of function. The purpose of this case report is to report the outcomes of a patient with lateral hip and thigh pain treated with DN as a primary intervention strategy.
Case description: The subject was an active 78-year-old female recreational walker who was referred to physical therapy for chronic left lateral hip and thigh pain of greater than one-year duration without a clear mechanism of injury. She had a history of previous physical therapy treatment for the same condition, and previous therapeutic intervention strategies were effective for approximately two to three months duration prior to return of pain symptoms. Physical examination supported a diagnosis of GTPS/ ITBS. Subjective reports denoted sleep deficit due to pain lying on the left side at night and difficulty walking more than five minutes. Objective findings included decreased strength of the hip musculature and reproduction of pain symptoms upon flat palpation in specific locations throughout the lateral hip and thigh regions. She was treated for eight weeks using only DN to determine the effectiveness of DN as a primary intervention strategy, as previous physical therapy interventions were inconsistent and were only beneficial in the short-term.
Outcomes: Clinically meaningful improvements were noted in disability and pain, as measured by the Lower Extremity Functional Scale and Quadruple Visual Analog Scale. Improvement in strength was not an objective measure being assessed, however, lower extremity strength improvement was noted upon final physical examination. This case report focused on pain reduction for improved function rather than strength improvement. Improvements in pain and disability were subjectively reported. The subject was able to lie on her left side at night, which improved her ability to sleep. She was also able to tolerate walking approximately twenty to thirty minutes for improved community ambulation needs.
Discussion: This case report presents promising outcomes for the use of DN in the treatment of chronic lateral hip and thigh pain. Further research is recommended to determine if DN is clinically beneficial independent of other therapeutic interventions such as exercise, myofascial release/ massage, non-thrust mobilization, or manipulation.
Level of evidence: Level 4.
Keywords: Dry needling; hip pain; iliotibial band; trochanteric bursitis.