Is it true dry needling (aka Medical Acupuncture) can help with my headaches ?


Is it true dry needling (aka Medical Acupuncture) can help with my headaches ?


Dry needling has been growing in popularity as more people seek quick remedies for chronic and acute pain as alternatives to pain killers. Dry needling has been proven to be very effective at releasing muscle knots, improving mobility, and relieving tension and pain. Because of this it has become a preferred choice for headache relief.

Below we will discuss the benefits of dry needling for treating headaches and address some common concerns.


Many people don’t realize that their headaches are being caused by a neuromuscular issue. Usually, the temporary relief offered by ibuprofen is enough to get their minds off the pain, but symptoms will eventually come back in what is referred to as a ‘medication overuse headache’. In these cases, a doctor offering a prescription or dosage increase is counterproductive to getting better. Using pain killers to treat a neuromuscular problem serves to mask the pain but doesn’t treat the issue at its core allowing it to advance and potentially create an unhealthy cycle and dependence on pain killers.

It’s not often that a patient enters our clinic specifically asking for dry needling. When a patient chooses sports massage therapy or physiotherapy, they may not be aware of all the different styles of treatment available to them. Communication is key, if you experience chronic headaches or you simply avoid certain tasks and limit certain movements because it could trigger a headache let your therapist know, you are likely a good candidate for dry needling. Always remember that you and your therapist are a team!


Sure! Dry needling targets trigger points in the muscles and tissue to help alleviate tension, preventing headaches and helping relieve tension caused by headaches. Headaches can be broken into four main types: tension, migraine, cluster and sinus. Tension headaches are the most responsive to dry needling because the root cause is muscle tension. Migraines for instance, may not always originate from neuromuscular issues but they can still cause muscle tension, intensifying the overall pain or limiting the overall mobility the body has. An assessment will find if a migraine is being caused by muscle tension, nerve irritation or blood flow restriction to the head. In the latter two, a therapist may recommend cardiovascular training or other soft tissue mobilization in addition to dry needling.

There is no one technique or one approach that is effective by itself. Whilst dry needling is very effective in providing quick relief for headaches, it is only part of a comprehensive solution. The muscles loosened up by dry needling now have a new range of motion and function that they are not used to. This means that now it’s our responsibility to retrain those muscles in order to see the longest-lasting results; otherwise, the muscles will revert back to a state they are familiar with.


The most common areas of the body that contribute to tension headaches are the upper back, shoulders and neck. Specifically, if you experience tightness or strain in the following muscles, then they are likely the cause of your headaches.

1. Upper Trapezius

Upper Trapezius

The trapezius is a group of muscles that runs along the upper back, shoulders and neck. Most patients seeking dry needling suffer from muscle tension in the upper portion of this group.

2. Suboccipital Muscles

suboccipital muscles

The suboccipital muscles are a group of muscles located where the base of the skull meets the spine. This is a very common area patients experience tension. Yes, we can target knots in these muscles for dry needling.

3. Sternocleidomastoid (sternomastoid)


The sternomastoid is a muscle that runs down the side and front of the neck. Many dry needling patients experience tension in this muscle. It ties with the suboccipital muscles for the 2nd most common contributor to tension headaches.


Despite using the same tool, a solid monofilament needle, Nick explains that dry needling and Chinese acupuncture are very different in theory and technique. Chinese acupuncture focuses on the meridian lines, or ‘energy channels’, where an issue is present whereas dry needling identifies specific knots in a muscle and releases them from the inside out. 


Patients hardly notice the needle insertion, sometimes they don’t feel the needle at all. What patients will feel is the twitch response. This feels like a charley horse or muscle spasm for a few moments as the muscle releases.

After treatment, patients usually feel sore for 2-3 days. The soreness is similar to the feeling after an intense workout.


Results can be seen immediately. Patients feel tension relief after just one dry needling session, but like a car, you don’t just change the tires once. Patients will often choose dry needling again to stay on top of their health. Individuals that have severe or chronic headaches may not be back to 100% after just one session, but pain is noticeably reduced.

Maintenance is important, for the longest lasting results work with your therapist to find exercises to help retrain your muscles to their new range of motion.


Dry needling is a versatile treatment with many benefits and applications. It’s not often a treatment can be so effective in just one session. and the drastic change patients get to experience is rewarding as a therapist.

Patients are more empowered than they realize. As dry needling becomes more popular and accepted, we can see it being requested in sports medicine, spine rehabilitation, trauma and surgical rehabilitation and in many more areas as there is rarely a condition that couldn’t benefit from it.

For more information, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

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