The Benefits of Adding Electrical Dry Needling in the treatment of Knee Osteoarthritis

A recent studycompared the effects of adding electrical dry needling into a manual therapy and exercise program on pain, stiffness, function, and disability in individuals with painful knee osteoarthritis (OA).

I am always interested in pragmatic research studies with a robust clinical emphasis instead of considering techniques in isolation compared with usually meaningless controls, like those we see in most dry needling and medical acupuncture randomised controlled trials.2

My treatment approach is functional, integrated and patient-centred within a biopsychosocial paradigm. Studies such as these inform my clinical practice and provide relevant evidence to support my approach, leading to excellent results for my patients. 

shutterstock 1559530805In this study, a total, 242 participants (n=242) with painful knee OA were randomised to receive six weeks of electrical dry needling, manual therapy and exercise (n=121) or only manual therapy and exercise (n=121).

Those patients who received the combination of electrical dry needling, manual therapy and exercise;

  • Experienced significantly greater improvements in related disability (WOMAC: F=35.504; P<0.001) than those receiving MT and exercise alone at six weeks and three months.
  • Were 1.7 times more likely to have completely stopped taking medication for their pain at three months than those receiving manual therapy and exercise only (OR, 1.6; 95% confidence interval, 1.24-2.01; P=0.001).
  • Based on the cutoff score of ≥5 on the global rating of change, significantly more patients within the dry needling group achieved a successful outcome than the manual therapy and exercise group at three months. 

The authors concluded that the inclusion of electrical dry needling into manual therapy and exercise program was more effective for improving pain, function, and related disability than the application of manual therapy and exercise alone in individuals with painful knee OA. The results of this study reflect my clinical outcomes at the clinic; that is, when including electrical dry needling (aka electro-acupuncture) in the treatment of knee OA, most patients respond quicker and with better overall results.

By Simon Coghlan MSc, BSc Physio, DipMedAc

Chartered Physiotherapist


  1. Dunning J, Butts R, Young I, Mourad F, Galante V, Bliton P, Tanner M, Fernández-de-Las-Peñas C. Periosteal electrical dry needling as an adjunct to exercise and manual therapy for knee osteoarthritis: a multicenter randomised clinical trial. The Clinical journal of pain. 2018 Dec;34(12):1149.
  2. Lund I, Lundeberg T. Are minimal, superficial or sham acupuncture procedures acceptable as inert placebo controls?. Acupuncture in medicine. 2006 Mar;24(1):13-5.
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