Is Dry Needling Effective for the Management of Plantar Heel Pain or Plantar Fasciitis? An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Pain Med. 2021 Jul 25;22(7):1630-1641. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnab114.


Objective: Dry needling is commonly used for the management of plantar fasciitis. This meta-analysis evaluated the effects of dry needling over trigger points associated with plantar heel pain on pain intensity and related disability or function.

Methods: Electronic databases were searched for randomized controlled trials in which at least one group received dry needling, not acupuncture, for trigger points associated with plantar heel pain and in which outcomes were collected on pain intensity and related disability. The risk of bias was assessed with the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, methodological quality was assessed with the Physiotherapy Evidence Database (PEDro) score, and the level of evidence is reported according to the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach. Between-groups mean differences (MD) and standardized mean differences (SMD) were calculated.

Results: The search identified 297 publications, with six trials eligible for inclusion. The meta-analysis found low-quality evidence that trigger point dry needling reduces pain intensity in the short term (MD -1.70 points, 95% confidence interval [CI] -2.80 to -0.60; SMD -1.28, 95% CI -2.11 to -0.44) and moderate-quality evidence that it improves pain intensity (MD -1.77 points, 95% CI -2.44 to -1.11; SMD -1.45, 95% CI -2.19 to -0.70) and related disability (SMD -1.75, 95% CI -2.22 to -1.28) in the long term, as compared with a comparison group. The risk of bias of the trials was generally low, but the heterogeneity of the results downgraded the level of evidence.

Discussion: Moderate- to low-quality evidence suggests a positive effect of trigger point dry needling for improving pain intensity and pain-related disability in the short term and long term, respectively, in patients with plantar heel pain of musculoskeletal origin. The present results should be considered with caution because of the small number of trials.

Keywords: Dry Needling; Meta-Analysis; Plantar Fasciitis; Plantar Heel Pain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Dry Needling*
  • Fasciitis, Plantar* / therapy
  • Heel
  • Humans
  • Pain
  • Pain Measurement