The Long-Term Effectiveness of Trigger Point Dry Needling and Exercise for Individuals With Shoulder Pain: A Critically Appraised Topic

J Sport Rehabil. 2020 Sep 1;30(2):333-338. doi: 10.1123/jsr.2019-0525.


Clinical Scenario: Shoulder pain is a very common symptom encountered in outpatient physical therapy practice. In addition to therapeutic exercise and manual therapy interventions, trigger point dry needling (TDN) has emerged as a possible treatment option for reducing shoulder pain and improving function. Dry needling consists of inserting a thin stainless-steel filament into a myofascial trigger point with the intention of eliciting a local twitch response of the muscle. It is theorized that this twitch response results in reduced muscle tension and can aid in reduced pain and disability. To this point, multiple studies have found TDN to be effective at reducing pain and improving function in the short-term, but the long-term outcomes remain unknown. Clinical Question: Does the addition of TDN to an exercise program result in better long-term pain intensity and disability reduction in patients with shoulder pain? Summary of Findings: Improvement in long-term pain and function can be expected regardless of the addition of TDN to an evidence-based exercise program for patients with shoulder pain. Clinical Bottom Line: Either TDN or an evidence-based therapeutic exercise program elicits improved long-term pain and disability reduction in patients with shoulder pain, which suggests that clinicians can confidently use either approach with their patients. Strength of Recommendation: Strong evidence (level 2 evidence with PEDro scores >8/10) suggesting that TDN does not outperform therapeutic exercise regarding long-term pain reduction.

Keywords: manual therapy; shoulder complex.

MeSH terms

  • Dry Needling*
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes* / therapy
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy
  • Trigger Points