Dry Needling for Headaches

If you don’t experience headaches, then I’m sure you have a loved one that does.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that about 15% of people in the U.S. experienced a “severe” headache or migraine within a 3-month period.  Headaches and migraines are one of the greatest causes of disability in the U.S..

Percentage of Adults Who Had a Severe Headache or Migraine in the Past 3 Months, by Sex and Age Group — National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2018


I recently attended a course conducted by the Dry Needling Institute American Academy of Manipulative Therapy and could not believe some of the research that was presented!  I was blown away by the results of dry needling or acupuncture compared to medication use.  (For more information on what dry needling is check out this blog post: *link to my last DN blog post*). In several studies dry needling and acupuncture were found to be MORE effective than medication in reducing the number of headaches and the intensity of those headaches. A review of highly credited research found that needling is effective for migraines, neck disorders, and tension type headaches.

Headaches are not all the same.  They can be caused by muscle tension in the face or skull, muscle tension in the neck, altered mechanics of your cervical (neck) vertebrae, poor blood circulation in the brain, hormonal imbalances, and many other factors.  Some of the most common headaches are migraines, cervicogenic headaches, and tension type headaches.  It has been known that physical therapy and dry needling are effective in treating cervicogenic headaches and tension type headaches.  Recent evidence is suggesting dry needling to be beneficial in treating migraines as well.

I’ve heard from patient’s who have trialed multiple medications, nerve blocks, meditation, essential oils, and anything else possible to relief their headaches.  Sometimes they are successful and sometimes not so much. If you or a loved one are finding it challenging to manage headaches or migraines, then physical therapy with dry needling is certainly worth a try.


Effectiveness of dry needling for headache: A systematic review (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31948718/)

Dry Needling for the Treatment of Tension-Type, Cervicogenic, or Migraine Headaches: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis ( https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33609358/ )

Image: QuickStats: Percentage of Adults Who Had a Severe Headache or Migraine in the Past 3 Months, by Sex and Age Group — National Health Interview Survey, United States, 2018. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:359. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6912a8external icon

Chase Malloy, DPT

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