The goal of this review was to describe the effects of ischemic compression and dry needling on trigger points in the upper trapezius muscle in patients with neck pain and compare these two interventions with other therapeutic interventions attempting to inactivate trigger points. Both PubMed and Web of Science were searched for randomized controlled trials using different key word combinations related to myofascial neck pain and therapeutic interventions. Four main outcome parameters were evaluated on short and medium term: pain, range of motion, functionality, and quality-of-life, including depression. Fifteen randomized controlled trials were included in this systematic review. There is moderate evidence for ischemic compression and strong evidence for dry needling to have a beneficial effect on pain severity. This pain reduction is greater compared with active range of motion exercises (ischemic compression) and no or placebo intervention (ischemic compression and dry needling) but similar to other therapeutic approaches. There is moderate evidence that both ischemic compression and dry needling increase side-bending range of motion, with similar effects compared with lidocaine injection. There is weak evidence regarding its effects on functionality and quality-of-life.
On the basis of this systematic review, ischemic compression and dry needling can both be recommended for the treatment of neck pain patients with trigger points in the upper trapezius muscle. More research with high-quality study designs are necessary to develop more conclusive evidence.