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Dry Needling: Is it worth all the hype?

It is so important as health care providers to be able to research and assess new and attractive treatment interventions prior to using them on patients. It is also our duty as health care professionals to know how to interpret the research properly and apply it to our practice. A more recent fad in the physical therapy and chiropractic realms is trigger point dry needling.  Is the effectiveness of dry needling so great that it is worth poking people with needles to get them better? Furthermore, if we, as PT’s, are necessary in performing the intervention, aren’t we creating a dependency and taking the control away from the patient in regards to their pain management (besides it costing patients more money)? There are less invasive ways to approach people’s pain in an efficient, effective, and safe way.

There have been several articles on the effectiveness of dry needling and the research is surprisingly inconclusive and not convincing, especially considering how much it is being used by physical therapists. It is definitely worth reading this critical review of a systematic review and meta-analysis that was performed on the effects of dry needling in the link below. Here are some of the issues the reviewers found in the analysis of the research and how it was presented.

1. There was no statistically significant difference between those that received dry needling and those that received a sham (fake) treatment.

2. Some of the articles only reviewed the immediate effects of dry needling and not long-term benefits.

3. The research was presented with clinically irrelevant effects on pain and disability.

4. The articles failed to control for significant confounding variables such as natural history, regression to the mean, and non-specific treatment effects.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4870038/

As health care professionals, we need to understand the impact we have on people and their pain management. With scientifically unfounded interventions like dry needling becoming common practice, we are sending the wrong message about what science has proven about pain, how we can effect pain, and how we can manage pain!

Be a SMART consumer of healthcare and be a skeptic when it comes to someone on Facebook wanting to tell their story about how one time dry needling helped them. It doesn’t always mean what helped someone else one time will help you. Pain is complex and everyone that has pain has different components to their life that impact the amount, intensity, and duration of their pain. If you want more information, please call Omaha Physical Therapy Institute at 402-934-8688.

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