Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

Dry Needling Shown To Reduce Pain And Disability Associated With Headaches

March 16, 2021


Headaches are often multifactorial in nature, but three types (migraine, tension type, and cervicogenic) are commonly treated in our Boulder Physical Therapy practice. Cervicogenic headaches include headache symptoms driven by the joints in the upper neck and respond best to upper cervical joint mobilization and manipulation, as well as, neck and shoulder strengthening exercises. Tension type headaches are driven in part by tightness in the muscles of the neck and head including the suboccipitals, levator scapulae, upper trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid. This type is best treated with soft tissue interventions including trigger point dry needling and neck and shoulder strengthening exercises. A recent review of the research highlights the impact of dry needling for these headache types.

Pourahmadi and colleagues recently published their findings in the journal Physical Therapy (2021). Authors reviewed the available evidence behind the use of dry needling on tension, cervicogenic, and migraine headache symptoms. They included 11 randomized controlled trials of which 9 entered into their meta analysis. They reported dry needling produced similar pain relieving effects to other known headache treatments, but significantly better changes in short term disability for patients. They reported a very low number needed to treat (NNT) for tension type headaches (NNT=2) and an NNT of 3-4 for cervicogenic headache symptoms.

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