MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Dry needling (DN), also known as myofascial trigger point dry needling, is a SCAM similar to acupuncture. It involves the use of solid filiform needles or hollow-core hypodermic needles and is usually employed for treating muscle pain. Instead of sticking them into acupuncture points, like with acupuncture, they are inserted into myofascial trigger points usually identified by palpation. There are some theories how DN might work, but whether it is clinically effective remains unclear.

This single-blind RCT determined, if the addition of upper quarter DN to a rehabilitation protocol is more effective in improving ROM, pain, and functional outcome scores when compared to a rehabilitation protocol alone after shoulder stabilization surgery. Thirty-nine post-operative shoulder patients were randomly allocated into two groups: (1) standard of care rehabilitation (control group) (2) standard of care rehabilitation plus dry needling (experimental group). Patient’s pain, ROM, and functional outcome scores were assessed at baseline (4 weeks post-operative), and at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and 6 months post-operative.

Of 39 enrolled patients, 20 were allocated to the control group and 19 to the experimental group. At six-month follow up, there was a statistically significant improvement in shoulder flexion ROM in the control group. Aside from this, there were no significant differences in outcomes between the two treatment groups. Both groups showed improvement over time. No adverse events were reported.

The authors concluded that dry needling of the shoulder girdle in addition to standard of care rehabilitation after shoulder stabilization surgery did not significantly improve shoulder ROM, pain, or functional outcome scores when compared with standard of care rehabilitation alone. Both group’s improvement was largely equal over time. The significant difference in flexion at the six-month follow up may be explained by additional time spent receiving passive range of motion (PROM) in the control group. These results provide preliminary evidence that dry needling in a post-surgical population is safe and without significant risk of iatrogenic infection or other adverse events.

How odd!

This trial followed the infamous A+B versus B design. As [A+B] is more than [B] alone, one would have expected that the experimental group has a better outcome than the control group.

But this was not the case!

Why?

Theoretically it can mean one of two things:

  1. DN did not even convey a placebo effect.
  2. DN had a negative effect on the outcome.

4 Responses to Dry needling is useless for rehabilitation after shoulder surgery

  • In the conclusion within the main body of the paper they state “These results do not support the addition of DN into the standard post-operative treatment regime in individuals who have recently undergone shoulder stabilization surgery.” This is very important but for some reason they didn’t include it in the conclusion within the abstract. They instead replaced it with “These results provide preliminary evidence that dry needling in a post-surgical population is safe and without significant risk of iatrogenic infection or other adverse events.” which is pretty irrelevant if the treatment doesn’t work.

  • I’m 11 post op from the second rotator cuff surgery. I fell 3 weeks after the first one and retore it. Repaired it at the 2 month mark. I am showing Significant improvement dry needling. I was told I have frozen shoulder by 3 drs and was even told to have surgery to get rid of it at the 8 week mark. I was the one to push for it and not get a Cortizone shot but did do an oral steroid. I saw my surgeon this week and said I’m doing fine! So happy with my therapist!

  • Kate

    I survived frozen shoulder, without any intervention. When my MD informed me that the pain would likely resolve in time, I took it on faith, but I was tempted to seek out other remedies. I waited, and eventually the pain, tightness and discomfort was gone… little by little.
    I never found out why it became a problem, as is many times the case for those that suffer from adhesive capsulitis. Signs and symptoms typically begin gradually, worsen over time and then resolve, usually within one to three years.

    It’s great that you’re doing better now.

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