This randomized clinical trial investigated the effectiveness of exercise versus exercise plus trigger point (TrP) dry needling (TrP-DN) in subacromial pain syndrome. A randomized parallel-group trial, with 1-year follow-up was conducted. Fifty subjects with subacromial pain syndrome were randomly allocated to receive exercise alone or exercise plus TrP-DN. Participants in both groups were asked to perform an exercise program of the rotator cuff muscles twice daily for 5 weeks. Further, patients allocated to the exercise plus TrP-DN group also received dry needling to active TrPs in the muscles reproducing shoulder symptoms during the second and fourth sessions. The primary outcome was pain-related disability assessed using the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand questionnaire. Secondary outcomes included mean current pain and the worst pain experienced in the shoulder during the previous week. They were assessed at baseline, 1 week, and 3, 6, and 12 months after the end of treatment.
Analysis was according to intention to treat with mixed analysis of covariance adjusted for baseline outcomes. At 12 months, 47 patients (94%) completed follow-up. Statistically larger improvements (all, P < .01) in shoulder disability was found for the exercise plus TrP-DN group at all follow-up periods (post: Δ -20.6 [95% confidence interval (CI) -23.8 to -17.4]; 3 months: Δ -23.2 [95% CI -28.3 to -18.1)]; 6 months: Δ -23.6 [95% CI -28.9 to -18.3]; 12 months: Δ -13.9 [95% CI -17.5 to -10.3]). Both groups exhibited similar improvements in shoulder pain outcomes at all follow-up periods. The inclusion of TrP-DN with an exercise program was effective for improving disability in subacromial pain syndrome. No greater improvements in shoulder pain were observed.
This study found that the inclusion of 2 sessions of TrP-DN into an exercise program was effective for improving shoulder pain-related disability at short-, medium-, and long-term; however, no greater improvement in shoulder pain was observed.