Exercise and dry needling for shoulder pain and dysfunction


Exercise and dry needling for shoulder dysfunction and pain
Experiencing chronic shoulder pain can be debilitating for people who suffer from it. There are numerous different treatment approaches that have varying levels of efficacy. Among conservative treatments, the options may include physical and manual therapy, exercise, acupuncture and dry needling.

While exercise has previously been shown to offer patients an effective treatment and outcome, a recent study demonstrates that combining dry needling with exercise may be a better treatment option than exercise alone.

What is dry needling?

People have trigger points in their muscles. When they become irritated, they can cause the knots that people feel in their muscles along with pain. Dry needling involves using hollow-point acupuncture needles or hypodermic needles to manipulate the trigger points in the shoulder muscles. Prior research has demonstrated that manipulating the trigger points in the muscles can help to change the muscle patterns and alleviate the experienced pain.

Study of the efficacy of exercise alone vs. exercise with dry needling

In the study, the researchers randomly divided 50 patients who suffered from chronic shoulder pain and who had been clinically diagnosed with it according to guidelines into two groups. In one group, the participants received a program of exercise alone. In the second group, the participants received the same exercise program but also received dry needling therapy. The researchers assessed the participants for their shoulder pain and their associated shoulder dysfunction. The assessments were completed according to the following schedule:

  •  Prior to the start of the study
  •  After one week of treatment
  •  After three months of treatment
  •  After six months of treatment
  •  After one year of treatment


The participants who received both the exercise program and the dry needling therapy showed greater improvements in the functionality of their shoulders than did the group that received the exercise program alone. These improvements were seen at each assessment period following the beginning of the study. Both groups demonstrated no difference in the amount of pain that was alleviated, however.


While adding dry needling as a therapy in addition to exercise may not result in greater pain improvements, this study demonstrates that its addition may result in better shoulder functioning. Shoulder dysfunction, including such things as a more limited range of motion, may prevent people from being able to complete the normal tasks of their daily lives and of their jobs.

Adding dry needling to the therapeutic regimens of people who are suffering from chronic shoulder pain and dysfunction may be indicated for help with the functional improvements.

When people experience chronic pain in their shoulders, they may also have worse functional ability in their shoulders. Exercise has been shown to be a good therapeutic approach to people who suffer from chronic shoulder pain.

As this study demonstrates, people may want to talk to their doctors about adding dry needling to their therapeutic regimens so that they might be able to enjoy better functional improvements along with pain alleviation.


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