While research is limited, dry needling shows promise as a treatment for those who experience chronic headaches or migraine episodes.

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When it comes to chronic migraine management, it can be helpful to have multiple treatment options under your belt. Options like medications are often enough — but sometimes, alternative treatments can have even more benefits when used alongside other treatments.

One alternative treatment, called dry needling, is a newer treatment option for chronic pain conditions. Although the research on this treatment is limited, several studies have found that it may be beneficial for headache and migraine symptoms.

Ahead, we’ll explore more about the research on dry needling and migraine headaches, including how to find a quality dry needling provider.

While acupuncture has been shown to be beneficial for conditions like headaches and migraine headaches, dry needling is a much newer approach with limited research. However, a few studies have shown that it may have similar benefits for managing the symptoms of these conditions.

One study from 2019 found that dry needling reduced headache intensity, frequency, and duration in people with chronic tension-type headaches.

Another study from 2021 found that electric dry needling and spinal manipulation improved cervicogenic headache intensity, frequency, and disability. Another study published the same year on dry needling and cervicogenic headaches found similar benefits.

A more recent systematic review from 2022 explored the effectiveness of dry needling for headaches. In this review, the researchers analyzed several types of headaches, including cervicogenic, tension, mixed-type, and migraine.

Results of the review found that dry needling was as effective as other interventions for headache relief and led to significant functional and sensory improvements in participants.

Is dry needling illegal in some states?

Currently, there are no states that outlaw dry needling entirely, and almost all states allow for physical therapists to perform this treatment. However, there are four states that prohibit PTs from performing dry needling:

  • California
  • Hawaii
  • New York
  • Oregon

Seven additional states — including Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania — have no laws governing whether or not PTs can perform dry needling.

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Research suggests that dry needling may reduce the frequency of certain types of headaches. However, there’s not enough research to say whether this treatment can prevent headaches or migraine episodes entirely.

If you live with chronic headaches, focusing on things like getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and reducing caffeine intake can help. And if you live with chronic migraine episodes, here are some steps you can take for prevention:

  • Learn what your migraine triggers are so that you can try to avoid them.
  • Make sure you’re eating and drinking enough throughout the day.
  • Move your body regularly and try to get enough sleep each night.
  • Find ways to reduce your stress and prioritize your self-care.
  • Explore different medications, procedures, and alternative medicine to help prevent migraine episodes.

Dry needling is associated with some mild side effects, such as bruising, bleeding, and general soreness in the treatment area.

Some people also experience side effects like drowsiness, headache, nausea, and a worsening of symptoms. And more serious side effects, although rare, can include itching, numbness, and infection.

Dry needling and acupuncture are similar approaches that both involve the use of needles to stimulate various trigger points around the body. Although these two treatments appear similar, there are some differences:

  • Acupuncture: This has a long history of use as a form of traditional Chinese medicine, with the practice spanning back thousands of years. Acupuncture targets everything from pain to allergies and more.
  • Dry needling: This is a newer form of alternative medicine compared to acupuncture, having only been around for less than a century. Dry needling primarily targets muscle pain rather than other conditions.

Even though some health experts consider dry needling as a type of acupuncture, the laws and regulations surrounding dry needling vary from state to state.

For example, the American Medical Association (AMA) states that dry needling is an invasive procedure that only experienced practitioners — like licensed medical physicians and acupuncturists — should perform.

However, according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the majority of states also allow physical therapists to perform dry needling.

With dry needling being a newer treatment approach, there aren’t many regulations for who can perform this procedure. So, here are two tips to keep in mind when searching for an experienced dry-needling provider.

One, since acupuncturists have experience with techniques similar to dry needling, they’re more likely to be qualified to offer this treatment. Here are a few resources you can use to find acupuncture specialists near you:

And two, if you can’t find an acupuncturist with dry needling experience, a licensed physical therapist may also be able to perform this treatment. Just make sure to ask about their experience, as not every physical therapist has training in this approach.

Dry needling is a newer alternative treatment approach that has shown possible benefits for acute and chronic pain conditions. However, while some studies have shown that dry needling may be beneficial for headaches and migraine symptoms, but more research is still needed.

If you live with chronic headaches or migraine episodes and you’re interested in exploring other treatments, consider reaching out to your doctor to discuss your options.