Neck pain is a costly and common problem. Current treatments are not adequately effective for a large proportion of patients who continue to experience recurrent pain. Therefore, new treatment strategies should be investigated in an attempt to reduce the disability and high costs associated with neck pain. Dry needling is a technique in which a fine needle is used to penetrate the skin, subcutaneous tissues, and muscle with the intent to mechanically disrupt tissue without the use of an anesthetic. Dry needling is emerging as a treatment modality that is widely used clinically to address a variety of musculoskeletal conditions. Recent studies of dry needling in mechanical neck pain suggest potential benefits, but do not utilize methods typical to clinical practice and lack long-term follow-up. Therefore, a clinical trial with realistic treatment time frames and methods consistent with clinical practice is needed to examine the effectiveness of dry needling on reducing pain and enhancing function in patients presenting to physical therapy with mechanical neck pain.
The aim of this trial will be to examine the short- and long-term effectiveness of dry needling delivered by a physical therapist on pain, disability, and patient-perceived improvements in patients with mechanical neck pain.
We will conduct a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in accordance with the CONSORT guidelines. A total of 76 patients over the age of 18 with acute or chronic mechanical neck pain resulting from postural dysfunction, trauma, or insidious onset who are referred to physical therapy will be enrolled after meeting the eligibility criteria. Subjects will be excluded if they have previous history of surgery, whiplash in the last 6 weeks, nerve root compression, red flags, or contraindications to dry needling or manual therapy. Participants will be randomized to receive (1) dry needling, manual therapy, and exercise or (2) sham dry needling, manual therapy, and exercise. Participants will receive seven physical therapy treatments lasting 45 minutes each over a maximum of 4 weeks. The primary outcome will be disability as measured by the Neck Disability Index. Secondary outcomes include the following: pain, patient-perceived improvement, patient expectations, and successful blinding to the needling intervention. Outcome measures will be assessed at 4 weeks, 6 months, and 12 months by an assessor who is blind to the group allocation of the participants to determine the short- and long-term treatment effects. We will examine the primary aim with a two-way, repeated-measures analysis of variance with treatment group as the between-subjects variable and time as the within-subjects variable. The hypothesis of interest will be the two-way group by time interaction. An a priori alpha level of .05 will be used for all analyses.
Recruitment is currently underway and is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. Data collection for long-term outcomes will occur throughout 2017 and 2018. Data analysis, preparation, and publication submission is expected to occur throughout the final three quarters of 2018.
The successful completion of this trial will provide evidence to demonstrate whether dry needling is effective for the management of mechanical neck pain when used in a combined treatment approach, as is the common clinical practice.