Georgiy Sekretaryuk
June 11, 2015
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Dry Needling (IMS) for Neck Pain

Dry Needling for Neck Pain

By Reza Ghannadan, MPT, BSc (Kin), IMS-P

What is Dry Needling?

Dry Needling, also known as Intra-Muscular Stimulation (IMS), is an effective technique used by physiotherapists and physicians to treat pain arising from muscles and/or nerves. Dry Needling is based on Western Medical Science and involves inserting a needle, without medication or injection, into an area of the muscle known as a trigger point.

A trigger point is an irritable, hard “knot” within a muscle that is painful when palpated and can produce significant pain over a large area. Trigger points are very common and can make everyday tasks difficult and painful. They typically develop due to repetitive activity, sustained postures, muscle imbalances, injuries, or a combination of factors.

Understanding Neck pain

There are several different types of neck pain. The most common type of neck pain is nonspecific neck pain. This is also referred to as mechanical neck pain. The exact cause is unknown, but it is usually due to strains or sprains to muscles or ligaments in the neck. Bad posture, muscle imbalances (certain muscles become tight and overused, and others become weak and underused), and traumatic injuries (eg. motor vehicle accidents) are common causes.

People often complain of tightness or stiffness in their neck, shoulders and upper back. Movement of the neck may feel restricted, and moving in specific directions may make the pain worse. Some patients may experience headaches related to their neck tension. They may also experience weakness, pain, numbness, or pins and needles radiating down their arms into their fingers. This is due to a nerve being compressed in their neck that travels down their arm into their fingers.

How can dry needling help with neck pain?

Dry Needling is one treatment option for releasing tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back muscles. Often, these muscles get tight in persons with neck pain. Dry Needling can release tension in the neck musculature, as well as surrounding nerves, tissues and other structures. This can significantly decrease neck pain, improve mobility, promote healing and restore function. Your physiotherapist may combine dry needling with other treatments, such as manual therapy (hands-on-treatment), specific exercises to maintain neck mobility, and education on postures/optimal positions to decrease neck/upper back stiffness.

What research shows

Research1 shows for people with a recent onset of neck pain (ie., the neck pain started recently), patients who received dry needling had significantly less pain, higher pain tolerance, and more movement in their neck than those who did not receive dry needling both at 10mins and 1 week after treatment. Specifically, the group that received dry needling had 33% less pain at 10mins after treatment, and 66% less pain at 1 week after treatment.

Another large trial2 examining 12 high quality studies on dry needling in patients with neck/upper back pain due to trigger points (‘hard knots’) found that compared to placebo or ‘sham treatment’ (patients who were needled but the needle was not fully inserted into muscle), dry needling is more effective and recommended in decreasing neck pain immediately after treatment and at 4 weeks post treatment.

Practical advice

If you are experiencing neck pain, whether it just started or whether it has been ongoing for a while, a physiotherapist can perform a detailed assessment to determine the most likely cause(s) of your neck pain. Seeing a physiotherapist early is recommended to prevent worsening of stiffness and promoting movement. Once the likely cause(s) of your neck pain have been determined, a treatment plan will then be outlined, which may consist of dry needling, manual therapy, exercises, education or other treatments to improve your movement and decrease your pain. Physiotherapists will often work with your family doctor to determine the best treatment for you.

Physical Therapists (RMT) in Burnaby

The Burnaby Physio Care clinic provides physiotherapy from highly skilled, university educated physiotherapists in Burnaby BC. If you have questions about neck pain, or if dry needling may be right for you, please call Burnaby Physio Care at 604-558-2273 and speak with Reza.


  1. Mejuto-Vazquez et al. (2014). Short-term changes in neck pain, widespread pressure pain sensitivity, and cervical range of motion after the application of trigger point dry needling in patients with acute mechanical neck pain: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Orthopaedic Sports & Physical Therapy, 44(4).
  2. Kietrys, D. M. (2013). Effectiveness of dry needling for upper-quarter myofascial pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Orthopaedic Sports & Physical Therapy, 43(9).


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