J Bodyw Mov Ther. 2021 Apr;26:353-363. doi: 10.1016/j.jbmt.2020.12.003. Epub 2020 Dec 3.
Acupuncture and dry needling are both minimally invasive procedures that use thin, filiform needles without injectate for the management of a variety of neuromusculoskeletal pain conditions. While the theoretical constructs underlying the use of acupuncture and dry needling are unique, both appear to have the ability to elicit biochemical, biomechanical, endocrinological and neurovascular changes associated with reductions in pain and disability. However, optimal treatment dosage has yet to be determined, and there is a lack of consistency in the literature on the number of needles that should be inserted and the needle retention time. Therefore, the purpose of this narrative review is to further explore the importance of these two variables. While trigger point dry needling advocates single needle insertions via repetitive, quick in-and-out pistoning, most acupuncture and dry needling clinical trials have incorporated multiple needles for five to 40 min. Notably and to date, using a single needle to repeatedly prick trigger points one at a time with fast-in and fast-out pistoning maneuvers has not yet been shown to produce significant and clinically meaningful long term improvements in pain and disability in a wide array of musculoskeletal conditions. Insertion of multiple needles for typically 20-30 min durations has been shown to produce larger treatment effect sizes and longer-lasting outcomes than brief, single-needle strategies. Moreover, the number of needles and needle retention time are two variables associated with treatment dosage and must be carefully matched with specific musculoskeletal conditions and the patient’s goals.