Immediate effects of superficial dry needling of the trigeminal nerve innervation field for participants with cervicogenic headache. A randomized controlled trial

Physiother Theory Pract. 2024 Feb;40(2):253-261. doi: 10.1080/09593985.2022.2118560. Epub 2022 Sep 1.


Background: Cervicogenic headache (CGH) is a common condition with a neuroanatomical basis involving the trigeminal nerve. Dry needling (DN) is a safe and effective treatment for CGH but most studies involve deep DN to cervical musculature.

Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate immediate effects of superficial DN of the trigeminal nerve innervation field on numeric pain rating scale (NPRS), flexion-rotation test (FRT), cervical range of motion (AROM), and pain-pressure threshold (PPT) of right (R) and left (L) supraorbital (SO), and right (R) and left (L) greater occipital (GO) nerves in participants with CGH.

Methods: A parallel controlled randomized design involving 30 participants with CGH received either superficial DN (N = 17) or sham DN (N = 13). Participants and outcome assessors were blind to group assignment. Wilcoxon signed rank analyzed within-group effects and Mann-Whitney U analyzed between-group.

Results: Statistically significant between-group differences were observed for NPRS (P < .001) and AROM (P < .006) favoring DN and were clinically meaningful. Right and left Flexion rotation tests (FRT) outcomes were non-significant (P = .137) but clinically meaningful. No differences were observed for PPT over: R SO (P = .187); L SO (P = .052); R GO (P = .187); or L GO (P = .052). Between-group effect sizes across variables were moderate to large (0.53-1.4) but confidence intervals were wide.

Conclusion: Superficial DN targeting the innervation field of the trigeminal nerve improves clinical outcomes in patients with CGH. Only the immediate effects were analyzed and the sample size was small. Larger, longer-term assessments are needed comparing superficial DN of the trigeminal innervation field and other conservative interventions for CGH.

Keywords: Dry needling; cervicogenic; headache.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Dry Needling*
  • Humans
  • Pain Threshold
  • Percutaneous Collagen Induction
  • Post-Traumatic Headache* / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome