Using Acupuncture and Dry Needling for the Treatment of Headache

Headache Treatment with Dry Needling

Headache and neck pain are unfortunately common issues that affect many (1). Causing at least annoying inconvenience or sometimes significant disability. Impacting on activity, work, relationships and general enjoyment of life and even mental health.

The cause of neck pain and headache is multifactorial with each individual having their own ‘drivers’ (cause) of their presenting problem. As such, we as clinicians, will assess to determine the ‘drivers’ for individual patients. Upon determining the cause we can then use the research and science to guide the decision making for the best available treatment.

One such group of treatment options is acupuncture and dry needling.

Acupuncture, developed in China over millennia, has now decades of ‘western science’ guiding treatment choices. Acupuncture is a relatively safe treatment option. The needles used are commonly only 0.25mm in diameter. At time of placement the sensation is usually barely noticeable. Dosage can be determined by placement, duration (often 10-25mins) and techniques of stimulation.

Dry needling is a treatment method which is primarily used to treat trigger points (‘knots’ in the muscle). Triggers points are localised areas of painful muscle that is also sensitive to pressure.

The measureable and proven treatment effects of acupuncture and dry needling include:

  1. Analgesia (pain relief) by stimulation of pain modulation neural pathways.
  2. Control of inflammation by managing release of chemicals associated with inflammation and hormones.
  3. Reducing muscle ‘tension’ and reducing trigger point activity.

There is evidence that acupuncture is beneficial for neck pain, headache and migraine. For example, a review of the available research in 2016 concluded that “….acupuncture is effective for treating frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches”  (2)

Management of neck pain, headache and migraine usually requires an array of tools including manual therapy (‘hands-on’) techniques to improve joint and muscle function, specific exercise prescription, assessment of postures and movement at work, sport and activity. Acupuncture and dry needling is a useful adjunct when used appropriately.



  1. Manzoni GC, StovnerLJ. Epidemiology of Headache. Handbook of Clinical Neurology. 2010, vol 97, pp 3-22
  2. Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Fei Y, Mehring M, Shin BC, Bickers A, White AR. Acupuncture for the Prevention of Tension-type Headache. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2016; Issue 4


Interested in acupuncture to help with your headaches? Contact us now!