Neurophysiological and psychophysical effects of dry versus sham needling of the infraspinatus muscle in patients with chronic shoulder pain: a randomized feasibility study

Arch Physiother. 2021 Oct 18;11(1):23. doi: 10.1186/s40945-021-00118-x.


BACKGROUND: Dry needling (DN) is increasingly used for treating myofascial trigger points (MTrPs) and has shown significant effects on pain and function. This study aimed to assess feasibility of conducting a randomized sham-controlled trial and to collect preliminary data on the effects of infraspinatus DN on corticospinal excitability and mechanical pain sensitivity.

METHOD: This randomized feasibility study included adults with chronic non-traumatic shoulder pain and a infraspinatus MTrP. Participants were randomized to receive real DN or sham DN in the infraspinatus MTrP. Feasibility outcomes included data pertaining to recruitment, retention of participants, completeness and safety of assessment procedures. Neurophysiological and psychophysical outcomes included corticospinal excitability and mechanical pain sensitivity measured by active motor threshold (aMT) and pressure pain threshold (PPT), respectively. They were assessed at baseline, immediately after and 24 h post-intervention.

RESULTS: Twenty-one participants were recruited over a 6-month period. Nineteen participants completed the treatment and follow-up assessment. Motor evoked potential responses were discernible in all but 1 participant. Only 1 minor adverse event related to transcranial magnetic stimulation (mild headache) affected the measurements. No DN adverse effects were recorded in both groups. An overall completeness rate of 81% was reached, with 70% completeness in the DN group and 91% in the sham group. Data analysis revealed that real DN increased corticospinal excitability (reduced aMT) 24 h post-intervention (Mdn = – 5.96% MSO, IQR = 5.17, p = 0.04) and that sham DN triggered similar responses immediately after the intervention (Mdn = – 1.93% MSO, IQR = 1.11, p = 0.03). Increased mechanical pain sensitivity (reduced PPT) was significant only in the sham group, both immediately (Mdn = – 0.44 kg/cm2, IQR = 0.49, p = 0.01) and 24 h post-intervention (Mdn = – 0.52 kg/cm2, IQR = 1.02, p = 0.02). Changes in corticospinal excitability was positively correlated with changes in mechanical pain sensitivity in the DN group, both immediately (r = 0.77, p = 0.02) and 24 h post-intervention (r = 0.75, p = 0.05).

CONCLUSION: The present study demonstrates the feasibility of quantifying the neurophysiological and psychophysical effects of DN, and provides recommendations and guidelines for future studies. Moreover, it provides preliminary evidence that DN may increase corticospinal excitability of the infraspinatus muscle in patients with chronic shoulder pain and that the relationship of neurophysiological and psychophysical effects is promising to better understand its mechanisms of action.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: NCT04316793 ; retrospectively registered November 3, 2020.

PMID:34663474 | DOI:10.1186/s40945-021-00118-x

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