Our aim was to evaluate the effect of dry needling alone as compared to sham needling, no intervention, or other physical interventions applied over trigger points (TrPs) related with neck pain symptoms. Randomized controlled trials including one group receiving dry needling for TrPs associated with neck pain were identified in electronic databases. Outcomes included pain intensity, pain-related disability, pressure pain thresholds, and cervical range of motion. The Cochrane risk of bias tool and the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) score were used to assessed risk of bias (RoB) and methodological quality of the trials. The quality of evidence was assessed by using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach. Between-groups mean differences (MD) and standardized mean differences (SMD) were calculated (3) Twenty-eight trials were finally included. Dry needling reduced pain immediately after (MD -1.53, 95% CI -2.29 to -0.76) and at short-term (MD -2.31, 95% CI -3.64 to -0.99) when compared with sham/placebo/waiting list/other form of dry needling and, also, at short-term (MD -0.51, 95% CI -0.95 to -0.06) compared with manual therapy. No differences in comparison with other physical therapy interventions were observed. An effect on pain-related disability at the short-term was found when comparing dry needing with sham/placebo/waiting list/other form of dry needling (SMD -0.87, 95% CI -1.60 to -0.14) but not with manual therapy or other interventions. Dry needling was effective for improving pressure pain thresholds immediately after the intervention (MD 55.48 kPa, 95% CI 27.03 to 83.93). No effect on cervical range of motion of dry needling against either comparative group was found. No between-treatment effect was observed in any outcome at mid-term. Low to moderate evidence suggests that dry needling can be effective for improving pain intensity and pain-related disability in individuals with neck pain symptoms associated with TrPs at the short-term. No significant effects on pressure pain sensitivity or cervical range of motion were observed. Registration number: OSF Registry-https://doi.org/10.17605/OSF.IO/P2UWD.
Keywords: cervical spine; dry needling; meta-analysis; neck pain; systematic review.