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Superficial versus deep dry needling
  1. Peter Baldry, emeritus consultant physician
  1. p.baldry{at}


    Ninety percent of my patients with myofascial trigger point (MTrP) pain have this alone and are treated with superficial dry needling. Approximately 10% have concomitant MTrP pain and nerve root compression pain. These are treated with deep dry needling.

    Superficial Dry Needling (SDN)

    The activated and sensitised nociceptors of a MTrP cause it to be so exquisitely tender that firm pressure applied to it gives rise to a flexion withdrawal reflex (jump sign) and in some cases the utterance of an expletive (shout sign). The optimum strength of SDN at a MTrP site is the minimum necessary to abolish these two reactions. With respect to this patients are divided into strong, average and weak responders. The responsiveness of each individual is determined by trial and error. It is my practice to insert a needle (0.3mm × 30mm) into the tissues immediately overlying the MTrP to a depth of 5–10mm and to leave it in situ long enough for the two reactions to be abolished. For an average reactor this is about 30secs. For a weak reactor it is several minutes. And for a strong reactor the insertion of the needle and its immediate withdrawal is all that is required. Following treatment muscle stretching exercises should be carried out, and any steps taken to eliminate factors that might lead to the reactivation of the MTrPs.

    Deep Dry Needling (DDN)

    This in my practice is only used either when primary MTrP activity causes shortening of muscle sufficient enough to bring about compression of nerve roots. Or when there is nerve compression pain usually from spondylosis or disc prolapse and the secondary development of MTrP activity. Unlike SDN, DDN is a painful procedure and one which gives rise to much post-treatment soreness.

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    • Peter Baldry’s contribution to a debate held at the ICMART 10th World Congress 2002.

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