While dry needling is proven effective at treating a wide range of headache types, we will look mainly at one of the most common types of headaches, Chronic Tension-Type Headaches (CTTH).
CTTH may be caused by dysfunction of the myofascial system of the head and neck musculature. Dysfunction in the myofascial system is caused partly by trigger points. Active trigger points are typically painful and can be palpated (felt by the practitioner) to determine the symptomatic points to treat.
These head and neck muscles often develop trigger points related to CTTH: masseter, sub-occipital muscles, temporalis, sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius, levator scapulae, etc. You may be asking yourself, what causes trigger points? This is a question that I get asked almost daily in my practice. There can be many causes of trigger points, but some of the most common culprits are related to poor posture, stress, and acute or chronic muscle injury.
Now that we've looked at potential causes and reasons we can get headaches, let's see what options are available for treatment. As a chiropractor, I like to try conservative therapies before medication and other more invasive options. Several conservative treatment options exist for people who suffer from headaches. Those therapies include dry needling, manual therapy, hot/cold therapy, electrical muscle stimulation, cupping, chiropractic mobilization and manipulation to the neck and upper back spinal regions, and nutritional supplementation. Chiropractors often combine dry needling with other modalities for the treatment of CTTH.
Dry needling utilizes filiform needles inserted into the myofascial system, typically targeted towards symptomatic trigger points and the surrounding tissues. This therapy causes several beneficial effects to the targeted area, including increased microcirculation, stimulation to the central nervous system, reduction of inflammation, and creation of micro-lesions in the treatment area to help stimulate the healing process.
According to a research study performed by Gildir et al., "... trigger point dry needling in patients with CTTH is effective and safe in reducing headache frequency, intensity and duration, and increasing health-related quality of life." 1
A chiropractic examination will help to determine a proper treatment plan based on the patient's specific condition. A typical dry needling treatment plan would include about three treatment sessions per week for two weeks. After two weeks, a chiropractor may complete an evaluation to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and alter the frequency of treatment depending upon the results of the therapy. I recommend maintenance visits after a treatment plan to maintain symptom reduction and improved function. Gildir's research study showed that the "Effectiveness of treatment begins in the first week of therapy and continues throughout the second week and follow-up periods." 1
When looking for a professional to perform dry needling, always check their licenses and certifications. Only licensed and certified medical professionals should perform dry needling therapy. In Louisiana, chiropractors complete extra training in dry needling before being able to perform the treatment. Check with your state to see which professionals can perform dry needling.
Chiropractors undergo vigorous training in human anatomy to be able to determine precisely where to perform dry needling. Chiropractic training also includes palpation of trigger points and other examination procedures to diagnose headaches and other conditions.
Schedule a visit with your local chiropractor to determine if dry needling therapy is right for you!
1. Gildir S, Tüzün EH, Eroğlu G, Eker L. A randomized trial of trigger point dry needling versus sham needling for chronic tension-type headache. Medicine (Baltimore). 2019 Feb;98(8):e14520. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000014520. PMID: 30813155; PMCID: PMC6408118.