Beneficial Effects of Dry Needling for Treatment of Chronic Myofascial Pain Persist for 6 Weeks After Treatment Completion

PM R. 2017 Feb;9(2):105-112. doi: 10.1016/j.pmrj.2016.06.006. Epub 2016 Jun 11.


Background: Dry needling is an effective treatment for reducing pain associated with active myofascial trigger points (a-MTrPs) in the short term. The duration of the benefits of this treatment have not been fully assessed.

Objective: To determine whether the benefits of dry needling (DN) of a-MTrPs are sustained 6 weeks posttreatment.

Design: Follow-up of a prospective study.

Setting: University.

Participants: A total of 45 patients (13 male and 32 female) with cervical pain >3 months and a-MTrPs in the upper trapezius who completed 3 DN treatments and who were evaluated 6 weeks posttreatment.

Interventions: None.

Main outcome measures: Primary outcomes were changes from baseline to follow-up in scores for the verbal analogue scale (VAS), Brief Pain Inventory (BPI), and MTrP status. MTrPs were rated as active (spontaneously painful), latent (painful only on compression), and nonpalpable nodule. Responders were patients whose MTrP status changed from active to latent or nonpalpable nodule (resolved). Secondary outcomes were pain pressure threshold (PPT), Profile of Mood States, Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), MOS 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey (SF-36), and cervical range of motion.

Results: Pain measures remained significantly improved 6 weeks posttreatment (P < .003), as did the SF-36 physical functioning score (0.01) and ODI (P = .002). Side bending and PPT for subjects with unilateral MTrPs had sustained improvement (P = .002). The number of subjects with sustained MTrP response at 6 weeks was significant (P < .001). Comparing responders to nonresponders, the changes in VAS and BPI were statistically significant (P = .006, P = .03) but the change in PPT was not. Patients with higher baseline VAS scores had a higher risk of not responding to DN; those with a greater drop in VAS score from baseline had a higher probability of sustained response. A 1-unit decrease in VAS at baseline resulted in a 6.3-fold increase in the odds of being a responder versus a nonresponder (P = .008).

Conclusions: In this study, there was sustained reduction of pain scores after completion of DN, which is more likely with a greater drop in VAS score. Patients with higher baseline VAS scores are less likely to respond to DN. Early intervention toward significant pain reduction is likely to be associated with sustained clinical response.

Level of evidence: IV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / therapy*
  • Neck Pain / therapy*
  • Needles*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Trigger Points*