Effects of Trigger Point Dry Needling for Nontraumatic Shoulder Pain of Musculoskeletal Origin: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Phys Ther. 2021 Feb 4;101(2):pzaa216. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzaa216.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effects of trigger point (TrP) dry needling alone or as an adjunct to other interventions on pain intensity and related disability in nontraumatic shoulder pain.

Methods: Ten databases were searched from inception to January 2020 for randomized clinical trials in which at least 1 group received TrP dry needling for shoulder pain of musculoskeletal origin with outcomes collected on pain intensity and related disability. Data extraction including participant and therapist details, interventions, blinding strategy, blinding assessment outcomes, and results were extracted by 2 reviewers. The risk of bias (Cochrane Risk of Bias, Cochrane Guidelines), methodological quality (Physiotherapy Evidence Database score), and evidence level (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation approach) were assessed. The search identified 551 publications with 6 trials eligible for inclusion.

Results: There was moderate-quality evidence that TrP dry needling reduces shoulder pain intensity with a small effect (mean difference = -0.49 points, 95% CI = -0.84 to -0.13; standardized mean difference = -0.25, 95% CI = -0.42 to -0.09) and low-quality evidence that TrP dry needling improves related disability with a large effect (mean difference = -9.99 points, 95% CI -15.97 to -4.01; standardized mean difference = -1.14, 95% CI -1.81 to -0.47) compared with a comparison group. The effects on pain were only found at short term. The Cochrane Risk of Bias was generally low, but the heterogenicity of the results downgraded the evidence level.

Conclusion: Moderate- to low-quality evidence suggests positive effects of TrP dry needling for pain intensity (small effect) and pain-related disability (large effect) in nontraumatic shoulder pain of musculoskeletal origin, mostly at short term. Future clinical trials investigating long-term effects are needed.

Impact: Dry needling is commonly used for the management of musculoskeletal pain. This is the first meta-analysis to examine the effects of dry needling on nontraumatic shoulder pain.

Keywords: Dry Needling; Meta-Analysis; Shoulder Pain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Disability Evaluation
  • Dry Needling / methods*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Pain / therapy*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Shoulder Pain / therapy*