Is Dry Needling Effective for the Management of Spasticity, Pain, and Motor Function in Post-Stroke Patients? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Pain Med. 2021 Feb 4;22(1):131-141. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnaa392.


Objective: To evaluate the effects of muscle dry needling alone or combined with other interventions on post-stroke spasticity (muscle tone), related pain, motor function, and pressure sensitivity.

Databases and data treatment: Electronic databases were searched for randomized controlled trials including post-stroke patients where at least one group received dry needling and outcomes were collected on spasticity and related pain. Secondary outcomes included motor function and pressure pain sensitivity. Data were extracted by two reviewers. The risk of bias was assessed with the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, methodological quality was assessed with the Physiotherapy Evidence Database score, and the quality of evidence was assessed by the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation approach. Between-groups mean differences (MDs) and standardized mean differences (SMDs) were calculated.

Results: Seven studies (three within the lower extremity, four in the upper extremity) were included. The meta-analysis found significantly large effect sizes of dry needling for reducing spasticity (SMD: -1.01, 95%confidence interval [CI] -1.68 to -0.34), post-stroke pain (SMD -1.01, 95%CI -1.73 to -0.30), and pressure pain sensitivity (SMD 1.21, 95% CI: 0.62 to 1.80) as compared with a comparative group at short-term follow-up. The effect on spasticity was found mainly in the lower extremity (MD -1.05, 95% CI: -1.32 to -0.78) at short-term follow-up. No effect on spasticity was seen at 4 weeks. No significant effect on motor function (SMD 0.16, 95% CI: -0.13 to 0.44) was observed. The risk of bias was generally low, but the imprecision of the results downgraded the level of evidence.

Conclusion: Moderate evidence suggests a positive effect of dry needling on spasticity (muscle tone) in the lower extremity in post-stroke patients. The effects on related pain and motor function are inconclusive.

Keywords: Dry Needling; Function; Meta-Analysis; Pain; Spasticity; Stroke.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Dry Needling*
  • Humans
  • Pain Threshold
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Stroke* / complications
  • Upper Extremity