Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Neck needling? Study says: nope!

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

“Dry needling” is the practice of using acupuncture needles to lance so-called trigger points, which are poorly understood sore spots associated with aching and stiffness. There is a detailed chapter about dry needling in my trigger point book. This is just a quick science update, summarizing one new study of the efficacy of dry needling for neck pain (see Gattie et al).

All studies are flawed, but this one is refreshingly powerful for this sort of thing, good in several ways: seventy-seven folks with neck pain were assigned to one of two groups, one with sham needling, and another with the real deal. Fake needles? In this case, they used “stage-dagger” needles that prick the skin but don’t break it — super hard to tell from the real thing (Park et al), especially out of sight.

All subjects got standard “manual therapy and exercise.” There was no ideal control group (a sham-only group would have been nice), which is a weakness but not a deal-breaker. But there was particularly good follow-up: subjects were checked at 4 weeks, 6 months, and a full year. Nice work overall!

And the results? The conclusion of this scientific paper needs no translation:

“There were no differences in outcomes between trigger point dry needling and sham dry needling when added to a multimodal treatment program for neck pain. Dry needling should not be part of a first-line approach to managing neck pain.

Alrighty, then! That is quite clear.

Déjà vu?

This is not “just one study.” A year ago, I wrote about an amazingly similar study (Stieven et al), which came to an amazingly similar conclusion: “Clinicians should not consider dry needling in addition to physical therapy as an approach to managing chronic neck pain.” Is there an echo in here?

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