Rotator cuff tendinitis, or impingement syndrome, is a common issue that affects the shoulder joint. It happens when the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff get inflamed or irritated, causing pain. One treatment that has been getting attention for helping with pain is called dry needling. This article will talk about what dry needling is, how it can help with rotator cuff tendinitis, and how it compares to other treatments.

Key Takeaways:

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis is when there's shoulder pain because of swelling and irritation in the muscles and tendons.
  • Dry needling is a treatment that focuses on trigger points and helps release muscle tension to lessen pain and improve movement.
  • A trained professional, like a sports chiropractor or physical therapist, can use dry needling as part of a treatment plan for rotator cuff tendinitis.
  • There are other options like steroid injections, physical therapy, surgery, and at-home remedies, depending on how bad the condition is and how each person responds.
  • It's important to work with a medical professional for the right diagnosis and treatment plan. This way, you can manage rotator cuff tendinitis and stay active without pain.


What is dry needling?

Dry needling, or myofascial trigger point dry needling, is a method used by trained professionals like physical therapists and sports chiropractors to treat muscle and tendon pain. They use a thin, single-use needle to gently insert it into a muscle or tendon. This targets specific points to release muscle tension and reduce pain. Although dry needling seems like acupuncture, there are some big differences between the two.

Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine and works to balance the flow of energy, or 'qi,' in the body. Acupuncture practitioners put needles into specific points on the body's energy channels to help with healing. On the other hand, dry needling is based on modern Western medicine. It releases muscle tension and improves blood flow in the area that's affected. Dry needling targets myofascial trigger points, which are tight knots within muscle fibers that cause pain and limit movement.


How can dry needling help with rotator cuff tendinitis?

Rotator cuff tendinitis often happens because of repetitive movements like throwing a ball or lifting weights. These actions can cause inflammation and irritation in the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. As a result, you may experience decreased movement, weakness, and shoulder pain.

Dry needling can be helpful for people with rotator cuff tendinitis by addressing muscle tension and trigger points that cause shoulder pain. When the needle is inserted into the affected tissue, it can cause a small twitch. This helps release muscle tension and improves blood flow to the area, which can decrease pain, help to heal and improve shoulder movement.

Dry needling can also work well with other types of physical therapy. Focusing on the muscle issues related to rotator cuff tendinitis, it can make other therapies more effective. This includes massage, joint mobilization, and exercises to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder.


How sports chiropractic can treat rotator cuff tendinitis

Sports chiropractors are healthcare professionals who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing injuries to muscles and bones, especially in athletes. They use various techniques like spinal manipulation, working on soft tissue, and exercises to treat many conditions, including rotator cuff injuries.

For rotator cuff tendinitis, a sports chiropractor might use dry needling along with other physical therapy treatments. This can help target muscle imbalances, joint restrictions, and mobility problems. By combining different therapies, the sports chiropractor can create a treatment plan that helps patients regain shoulder function and recover more quickly.


The safety and risks of dry needling for rotator cuff injuries

Dry needling is usually safe when done by a trained practitioner. However, it's essential to know the possible risks and side effects that can happen with the procedure.

Some people might feel minor discomfort, bruises, or temporary muscle soreness after dry needling treatment. More serious risks are rare but include infection, nerve damage, and injury to internal organs or blood vessels. To stay safe, choose a qualified and experienced practitioner who follows strict hygiene guidelines, uses single-use sterile needles, and carefully evaluates the patient before doing dry needling.

The biggest part of why dry needling is so safe for rotator cuff injuries is because of the shoulder blade. The shoulder blade prevents the needles from piercing into the lungs. 


Other ways to treat rotator cuff tendinitis

Although dry needling can help with rotator cuff tendinitis, there are also other treatment options to consider. Some of these options are:

  1. Steroid injections: Sometimes, doctors recommend steroid injections into the inflamed tendon to quickly reduce pain and swelling. This treatment is a temporary solution and shouldn't be the only treatment.
  2. Chiropractic or Physical therapy: A complete therapy program is crucial for treating rotator cuff tendinitis. A skilled therapist can create a program with exercises that make the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles stronger, improve flexibility, and fix any biomechanical issues causing pain and dysfunction.
  3. Surgery: In extreme cases, especially when other treatments don't work, surgery may be suggested to fix damaged tendons or remove bone spurs that cause problems within the shoulder joint. Surgical options may range from arthroscopic surgery to open surgery, depending on the extent of the injury.
  4. At-home remedies: For mild rotator cuff tendinitis, trying at-home remedies like rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs can help lessen pain and inflammation. It's essential to avoid activities that make symptoms worse and slowly get back to physical activity as the pain decreases. If symptoms continue or get worse, be sure to talk to a healthcare professional for further evaluation and treatment.



In summary, dry needling is a promising and helpful treatment for people dealing with rotator cuff tendinitis. By targeting trigger points and easing muscle tension, the procedure can lessen pain, increase the range of motion, and help with overall shoulder function. A trained professional like a sports chiropractor or physical therapist can use dry needling as part of a treatment plan for rotator cuff tendinitis.

If you have shoulder pain or discomfort, talk with a medical professional to get the right diagnosis and treatment plan. They can help you decide whether dry needling is a good option for treating your rotator cuff tendinitis. Keep in mind that the best treatment plan may also include other therapies and exercises to strengthen and stabilize the shoulder, promote healing, and prevent future injuries. By taking action to care for your shoulder health and working with a qualified healthcare professional, you can effectively manage rotator cuff tendinitis and keep enjoying an active, pain-free life.

Byron  Lam

Byron Lam

Chiropractor, CCSP®, FR® Spine

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