The Physical Therapy and COVID-19

The year 2020 had a different plan for our world.  It affected everyone in different ways, uniting them while physically distancing them.  It is a new experience, one that is continuously testing people’s wills as well as their resilience and adaptability.  Humanity, in an effort to protect itself from a microorganism called COVID-19, has given up on simple things that in the past were taken for granted such as a hug or a handshake.  Instead concentrating on essential things like health and family.  Schools and many businesses have closed in the effort to combat this new threat however, people have adapted and found new ways to move forward through different online platforms.  Only time will determine what our world will look like once this pandemic pass.

What about physiotherapists? What is our role during this pandemic?  Do we have one?  How can we help our countries and colleagues on the front lines?  What can we do? Are we an essential part of the medical community that is confronting this global foe?  Many questions arise, these are only a few.  Many of our colleagues have dedicated themselves in caring for the very ill COVID-19 patients, working side by side with their medical comrades in the ICU.  Our forgotten colleagues are supporting the health care system and the ICU with their distinctive clinical skills.  Their dedication to their work must not go unacknowledged.

Many medical societies have made available different resources online to continue training the medical profession at this time.  The Society of Critical Care Medicine has an online chapter targeting the non-ICU clinicians as part of a backup plan to support the medical system from collapse.  As part of its own initiative, the Australian Physiotherapy Association has provided virtual training to its physiotherapists who have had previous experience in intensive care in order to combat this growing health crisis.  These are only a few examples of how the health care systems worldwide have adapted to the current situation and how the role of the physiotherapist in the current health crisis is vital.

Once the world begins to heal itself we will be faced with a new reality. Borders will start to reopen, economies will restart, people will be able to leave their homes, children will be able to go to school, families will enjoy picnics in the park, but what lessons will we take from what we have been through?   A lot of uncertainty remains but one thing is definite, our world will not be the same as it was in 2019.

Here at the Invasive Physical Therapy Journal we are continuing our research, focusing on improving our patients’ lives with new techniques, ready for them when we return to our clinics and hospitals, all the while keeping in mind the necessary precautions to protect them and ourselves from the virus that has become, and will continue to be, a part of our daily life.  We, like other health care professionals, treat patients that may cough or sneeze during a session which can cause respiratory droplets so keeping safe is vital. 

Minimal invasive therapy has been increasingly employed worldwide. There have been many studies published to support its effectiveness. Patients have improved using these invasive techniques. Our patients need us to restore their movement, to decrease musculoskeletal pain just so they can lead pain free lives. We will go back to work. The world will not stop, and neither will we.

Trigger Points: Diagnosis and Management

Am Fam Physician. 2002 Feb 15;65(4):653-661.

Trigger points are discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle. They produce pain locally and in a referred pattern and often accompany chronic musculoskeletal disorders. Acute trauma or repetitive microtrauma may lead to the development of stress on muscle fibers and the formation of trigger points. Patients may have regional, persistent pain resulting in a decreased range of motion in the affected muscles. These include muscles used to maintain body posture, such as those in the neck, shoulders, and pelvic girdle. Trigger points may also manifest as tension headache, tinnitus, temporomandibular joint pain, decreased range of motion in the legs, and low back pain. Palpation of a hypersensitive bundle or nodule of muscle fiber of harder than normal consistency is the physical finding typically associated with a trigger point. Palpation of the trigger point will elicit pain directly over the affected area and/or cause radiation of pain toward a zone of reference and a local twitch response. Various modalities, such as the Spray and Stretch technique, ultrasonography, manipulative therapy and injection, are used to inactivate trigger points. Trigger-point injection has been shown to be one of the most effective treatment modalities to inactivate trigger points and provide prompt relief of symptoms.

About 23 million persons, or 10 percent of the U.S. population, have one or more chronic disorders of the musculoskeletal system.1 Musculoskeletal disorders are the main cause of disability in the working-age population and are among the leading causes of disability in other age groups.2Myofascial pain syndrome is a common painful muscle disorder caused by myofascial trigger points.3 This must be differentiated from fibromyalgia syndrome, which involves multiple tender spots or tender points.3 These pain syndromes are often concomitant and may interact with one another.

Trigger points are discrete, focal, hyperirritable spots located in a taut band of skeletal muscle. The spots are painful on compression and can produce referred pain, referred tenderness, motor dysfunction, and autonomic phenomena.4

Trigger points are classified as being active or latent, depending on their clinical characteristics.5 An active trigger point causes pain at rest. It is tender to palpation with a referred pain pattern that is similar to the patient’s pain complaint.3,5,6 This referred pain is felt not at the site of the trigger-point origin, but remote from it. The pain is often described as spreading or radiating.7  Referred pain is an important characteristic of a trigger point. It differentiates a trigger point from a tender point, which is associated with pain at the site of palpation only (Table 1).8

View/Print TableTABLE 1

Trigger Points vs. Tender Points

Local tenderness, taut band, local twitch response, jump signLocal tenderness
Singular or multipleMultiple
May occur in any skeletal muscleOccur in specific locations that aresymmetrically located
May cause a specific referred pain patternDo not cause referred pain, but often cause a total body increase in pain sensitivity

A latent trigger point does not cause spontaneous pain, but may restrict movement or cause muscle weakness.6 The patient presenting with muscle restrictions or weakness may become aware of pain originating from a latent trigger point only when pressure is applied directly over the point.9

Moreover, when firm pressure is applied over the trigger point in a snapping fashion perpendicular to the muscle, a “local twitch response” is often elicited.10 A local twitch response is defined as a transient visible or palpable contraction or dimpling of the muscle and skin as the tense muscle fibers (taut band) of the trigger point contract when pressure is applied. This response is elicited by a sudden change of pressure on the trigger point by needle penetration into the trigger point or by transverse snapping palpation of the trigger point across the direction of the taut band of muscle fibers. Thus, a classic trigger point is defined as the presence of discrete focal tenderness located in a palpable taut band of skeletal muscle, which produces both referred regional pain (zone of reference) and a local twitch response. Trigger points help define myofascial pain syndromes.

Tender points, by comparison, are associated with pain at the site of palpation only, are not associated with referred pain, and occur in the insertion zone of muscles, not in taut bands in the muscle belly.8 Patients with fibromyalgia have tender points by definition. Concomitantly, patients may also have trigger points with myofascial pain syndrome. Thus, these two pain syndromes may overlap in symptoms and be difficult to differentiate without a thorough examination by a skilled physician.


There are several proposed histopathologic mechanisms to account for the development of trigger points and subsequent pain patterns, but scientific evidence is lacking. Many researchers agree that acute trauma or repetitive microtrauma may lead to the development of a trigger point. Lack of exercise, prolonged poor posture, vitamin deficiencies, sleep disturbances, and joint problems may all predispose to the development of micro-trauma.5Occupational or recreational activities that produce repetitive stress on a specific muscle or muscle group commonly cause chronic stress in muscle fibers, leading to trigger points. Examples of predisposing activities include holding a telephone receiver between the ear and shoulder to free arms; prolonged bending over a table; sitting in chairs with poor back support, improper height of arm rests or none at all; and moving boxes using improper body mechanics.11

Acute sports injuries caused by acute sprain or repetitive stress (e.g., pitcher’s or tennis elbow, golf shoulder), surgical scars, and tissues under tension frequently found after spinal surgery and hip replacement may also predispose a patient to the development of trigger points.12

Clinical Presentation

Patients who have trigger points often report regional, persistent pain that usually results in a decreased range of motion of the muscle in question. Often, the muscles used to maintain body posture are affected, namely the muscles in the neck, shoulders, and pelvic girdle, including the upper trapezius, scalene, sternocleidomastoid, levator scapulae, and quadratus lumborum.13Although the pain is usually related to muscle activity, it may be constant. It is reproducible and does not follow a dermatomal or nerve root distribution. Patients report few systemic symptoms, and associated signs such as joint swelling and neurologic deficits are generally absent on physical examination.14

In the head and neck region, myofascial pain syndrome with trigger points can manifest as tension headache, tinnitus, temporomandibular joint pain, eye symptoms, and torticollis.15Upper limb pain is often referred and pain in the shoulders may resemble visceral pain or mimic tendonitis and bursitis.5,16 In the lower extremities, trigger points may involve pain in the quadriceps and calf muscles and may lead to a limited range of motion in the knee and ankle. Trigger-point hypersensitivity in the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius often produces intense pain in the low back region.15 Examples of trigger-point locations are illustrated in Figure 1.16

View/Print Figure


Most frequent locations of myofascial trigger points.


Palpation of a hypersensitive bundle or nodule of muscle fiber of harder than normal consistency is the physical finding most often associated with a trigger point.10 Localization of a trigger point is based on the physician’s sense of feel, assisted by patient expressions of pain and by visual and palpable observations of local twitch response.10 This palpation will elicit pain over the palpated muscle and/or cause radiation of pain toward the zone of reference in addition to a twitch response. The commonly encountered locations of trigger points and their pain reference zones are consistent.8 Many of these sites and zones of referred pain have been illustrated in Figure 2.10

View/Print Figure


Examples of the three directions in which trigger points (Xs) may refer pain (red). (A)Peripheral projection of pain from suboccipital and infraspinatus trigger points. (B) Mostly central projection of pain from biceps brachii trigger points with some pain in the region of the distal tendinous attachment of the muscle. (C) Local pain from a trigger point in the serratus posterior inferior muscle.

No laboratory test or imaging technique has been established for diagnosing trigger points.9However, the use of ultrasonography, electromyography, thermography, and muscle biopsy has been studied.


Predisposing and perpetuating factors in chronic overuse or stress injury on muscles must be eliminated, if possible. Pharmacologic treatment of patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain includes analgesics and medications to induce sleep and relax muscles. Antidepressants, neuroleptics, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed for these patients.1

Nonpharmacologic treatment modalities include acupuncture, osteopathic manual medicine techniques, massage, acupressure, ultrasonography, application of heat or ice, diathermy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, ethyl chloride Spray and Stretch technique, dry needling, and trigger-point injections with local anesthetic, saline, or steroid. The long-term clinical efficacy of various therapies is not clear, because data that incorporate pre- and post-treatment assessments with control groups are not available.

The Spray and Stretch technique involves passively stretching the target muscle while simultaneously applying dichlorodifluoromethane-trichloromonofluoromethane (Fluori-Methane) or ethyl chloride spray topically.5 The sudden drop in skin temperature is thought to produce temporary anesthesia by blocking the spinal stretch reflex and the sensation of pain at a higher center.5,10 The decreased pain sensation allows the muscle to be passively stretched toward normal length, which then helps to inactivate trigger points, relieve muscle spasm, and reduce referred pain.5

Dichlorodifluoromethane-trichloromono-fluoromethane is a nontoxic, nonflammable vapor coolant spray that does not irritate the skin but is no longer commercially available for other purposes because of its effect in reducing the ozone layer. However, its use is safer for both patient and physician than the original volatile vapor coolant, ethyl chloride. Ethyl chloride is a rapid-acting general anesthetic that becomes flammable and explosive when 4 to 15 percent of the vapor is mixed with air.10 Nevertheless, ethyl chloride remains a popular agent because of its local anesthetic action and its greater cooling effect than that of dichlorodifluoromethane-trichloromonofluoromethane.5

The decision to treat trigger points by manual methods or by injection depends strongly on the training and skill of the physician as well as the nature of the trigger point itself.10 For trigger points in the acute stage of formation (before additional pathologic changes develop), effective treatment may be delivered through physical therapy. Furthermore, manual methods are indicated for patients who have an extreme fear of needles or when the trigger point is in the middle of a muscle belly not easily accessible by injection (i.e., psoas and iliacus muscles).10 The goal of manual therapy is to train the patient to effectively self-manage the pain and dysfunction. However, manual methods are more likely to require several treatments and the benefits may not be as fully apparent for a day or two when compared with injection.10

While relatively few controlled studies on trigger-point injection have been conducted, trigger-point injection and dry needling of trigger points have become widely accepted. This therapeutic approach is one of the most effective treatment options available and is cited repeatedly as a way to achieve the best results.5

Trigger-point injection is indicated for patients who have symptomatic active trigger points that produce a twitch response to pressure and create a pattern of referred pain. In comparative studies,17 dry needling was found to be as effective as injecting an anesthetic solution such as procaine (Novocain) or lidocaine (Xylocaine).10 However, post-injection soreness resulting from dry needling was found to be more intense and of longer duration than the soreness experienced by patients injected with lidocaine.10

One noncontrolled study17 comparing the use of dry needling versus injection of lidocaine to treat trigger points showed that 58 percent of patients reported complete relief of pain immediately after trigger-point injection and the remaining 42 percent of patients claimed that their pain was minimal (1–2/10) on the pain scale. Both dry needling and injection with 0.5 percent lidocaine were equally successful in reducing myofascial pain. Postinjection soreness, a different entity than myofascial pain, often developed, especially after use of the dry needling technique.17 These results support the opinion of most researchers that the critical therapeutic factor in both dry needling and injection is mechanical disruption by the needle.1,10


Trigger-point injection can effectively inactivate trigger points and provide prompt, symptomatic relief. Table 210,18 outlines the necessary equipment for trigger-point injection. Contraindications to trigger-point injection are listed in Table 310,18 and possible complications are outlined in Table 4.

View/Print TableTABLE 2

Equipment Needed for Trigger-Point Injection

Rubber gloves
Gauze pads
Alcohol pads for cleansing skin
3- or 5-mL syringe
Lidocaine (Xylocaine, 1 percent, without epinephrine) or procaine (Novocain, 1 percent)
22-, 25-, or 27-gauge needles of varying lengths, depending on the site to be injected
Adhesive bandage

Information from references10 and18.

View/Print TableTABLE 3

Contraindications to Trigger-Point Injection

Anticoagulation or bleeding disorders
Aspirin ingestion within three days of injection
The presence of local or systemic infection
Allergy to anesthetic agents
Acute muscle trauma
Extreme fear of needles

Information from references10 and18.

View/Print TableTABLE 4

Complications of Trigger-Point Injections

Vasovagal syncope
Skin infection
Pneumothorax; avoid pneumothorax complications by never aiming a needle at an intercostal space.
Needle breakage; avoid by never inserting the needle to its hub.
Hematoma formation; avoid by applying direct pressure for at least two minutes after injection.


Increased bleeding tendencies should be explored before injection. Capillary hemorrhage augments postinjection soreness and leads to unsightly ecchymosis.10 Patients should refrain from daily aspirin dosing for at least three days before injection to avoid increased bleeding.

The patient should be placed in a comfortable or recumbent position to produce muscle relaxation. This is best achieved by positioning the patient in the prone or supine position. This positioning may also help the patient to avoid injury if he or she has a vasovagal reaction.18

Needle Selection

The choice of needle size depends on the location of the muscle being injected. The needle must be long enough to reach the contraction knots in the trigger point to disrupt them. A 22-gauge, 1.5-inch needle is usually adequate to reach most superficial muscles. For thick subcutaneous muscles such as the gluteus maximus or paraspinal muscles in persons who are not obese, a 21-gauge, 2.0-inch needle is usually necessary.10 A 21-gauge, 2.5-inch needle is required to reach the deepest muscles, such as the gluteus minimus and quadratus lumborum, and is available as a hypodermic needle. Using a needle with a smaller diameter may cause less discomfort; however, it may provide neither the required mechanical disruption of the trigger point nor adequate sensitivity to the physician when penetrating the overlying skin and subcutaneous tissue. A needle with a smaller gauge may also be deflected away from a very taut muscular band, thus preventing penetration of the trigger point. The needle should be long enough so that it never has to be inserted all the way to its hub, because the hub is the weakest part of the needle and breakage beneath the skin could occur.6

Injection Solutions

An injectable solution of 1 percent lidocaine or 1 percent procaine is usually used. Several other substances, including diclofenac (Voltaren), botulinum toxin type A (Botox), and corticosteroids, have been used in trigger-point injections. However, these substances have been associated with significant myotoxicity.10,19 Procaine has the distinction of being the least myotoxic of all local injectable anesthetics.10

Injection Technique

Once a trigger point has been located and the overlying skin has been cleansed with alcohol, the clinician isolates that point with a pinch between the thumb and index finger or between the index and middle finger, whichever is most comfortable (Figures 3a and 3b). Using sterile technique, the needle is then inserted 1 to 2 cm away from the trigger point so that the needle may be advanced into the trigger point at an acute angle of 30 degrees to the skin. The stabilizing fingers apply pressure on either side of the injection site, ensuring adequate tension of the muscle fibers to allow penetration of the trigger point but preventing it from rolling away from the advancing needle.10 The application of pressure also helps to prevent bleeding within the subcutaneous tissues and the subsequent irritation to the muscle that the bleeding may produce. The serious complication of pneumothorax can be avoided by refraining from aiming the needle at an intercostal space.

Before advancing the needle into the trigger point, the physician should warn the patient of the possibility of sharp pain, muscle twitching, or an unpleasant sensation as the needle contacts the taut muscular band.17 To ensure that the needle is not within a blood vessel, the plunger should be withdrawn before injection. A small amount (0.2 mL) of anesthetic should be injected once the needle is inside the trigger point. The needle is then withdrawn to the level of the subcutaneous tissue, then redirected superiorly, inferiorly, laterally and medially, repeating the needling and injection process in each direction until the local twitch response is no longer elicited or resisting muscle tautness is no longer perceived (Figure 3c).10

View/Print Figure


Cross-sectional schematic drawing of flat palpation to localize and hold the trigger point (dark red spot) for injection. (A, B) Use of alternating pressure between two fingers to confirm the location of the palpable nodule of the trigger point. (C) Positioning of the trigger point halfway between the fingers to keep it from sliding to one side during the injection. Injection is away from fingers, which have pinned down the trigger point so that it cannot slide away from the needle. Dotted outline indicates additional probing to explore for additional adjacent trigger points. The fingers are pressing downward and apart to maintain pressure for hemostasis.

Post-injection Management

After injection, the area should be palpated to ensure that no other tender points exist. If additional tender points are palpable, they should be isolated, needled and injected. Pressure is then applied to the injected area for two minutes to promote hemostasis.10 A simple adhesive bandage is usually adequate for skin coverage.

One study20 emphasizes that stretching the affected muscle group immediately after injection further increases the efficacy of trigger point therapy. Travell recommends that this is best performed by immediately having the patient actively move each injected muscle through its full range of motion three times, reaching its fully shortened and its fully lengthened position during each cycle.10

Postinjection soreness is to be expected in most cases, and the patient’s stated relief of the referred pain pattern notes the success of the injection. Re-evaluation of the injected areas may be necessary, but reinjection of the trigger points is not recommended until the postinjection soreness resolves, usually after three to four days. Repeated injections in a particular muscle are not recommended if two or three previous attempts have been unsuccessful. Patients are encouraged to remain active, putting muscles through their full range of motion in the week following trigger-point injections, but are advised to avoid strenuous activity, especially in the first three to four days after injection.10

The Authors

show all author info

DAVID J. ALVAREZ, D.O., is a clinical instructor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, where he completed a fellowship in sports medicine. Dr. Alvarez received his medical degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, East Lansing, and completed a transitional internship at Naval Medical Center, San Diego, and a family practice residency at the University of Michigan Medical School.…


show all references

1. Imamura ST, Fischer AA, Imamura M, Teixeira MJ, Tchia Yeng Lin, Kaziyama HS, et al. Pain management using myofascial approach when other treatment failed. Phys Med Rehabil Clin North Am. 1997;8:179–96.…

Members of various medical faculties develop articles for “Practical Therapeutics.” This article is one in a series coordinated by the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor. Guest editor of the series is Barbara S. Apgar, M.D., M.S., who is also an associate editor of AFP.

Comparative Study of Treatment Interventions for Patellar Tendinopathy: A Protocol for a Randomised Controlled Trial

Maria Pilar López-Royo 1 2Eva Maria Gómez-Trullén 3Maria Ortiz-Lucas 1Rita Maria Galán-Díaz 1Ana Vanessa Bataller-Cervero 1Zaid Al-Boloushi 1 2 4Yasmina Hamam-Alcober 1Pablo Herrero 5Affiliations expand

Free PMC article


Introduction: Patellar tendinopathy is a degenerative disease of the patellar tendon, which affects athletes from a variety of sports, and is especially predominant in sports involving high-impact jumping. The aim of this study is to determine the additional effect of two interventions combined with eccentric exercise and compare which one is the most effective at short-term and long-term follow-up for patients with patellar tendinopathy.

Methods and analysis: This study is a randomised controlled trial with blinded participants. Measurements will be carried out by a specially trained blinded assessor. A sample of 57 patients with a medical diagnosis of patellar tendinopathy will participate in this study and will be divided into three treatment groups. Eligible participants will be randomly allocated to receive either: (a) treatment group with percutaneous needle electrolysis, (b) treatment group with dry needling or (c) treatment group with placebo needling. In addition, all groups will perform eccentric exercise. Functionality and muscle strength parameters, pain, ultrasound appearances and patient perceived quality of life shall be evaluated using the Victorian Institute of Sports Assessment for patellar (VISA-P), jump tests, Visual Analogue Scale, ultrasound images and Short Form-36 (SF-36), respectively. Participants will be assessed at baseline, at 10 weeks and at 22 weeks after baseline. The expected findings will allow us to advance in the treatment of this injury, as they will help determine whether a needling intervention has additional effects on an eccentric exercise programme and whether any of the needling modalities is more effective than the other.

Ethics and dissemination: This protocol has been approved by the Ethics Committee of Aragon (N° PI15/0017). The trial will be conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.

Trial registration number: NCT02498795.

Keywords: dry needling; eccentric exercise; percutaneous needle electrolysis; tendinopathy.

© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2020. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

Minimally Invasive Non-Surgical Management of Plantar Fasciitis: A Systematic Review

Z Al-Boloushi 1M P López-Royo 2M Arian 3E M Gómez-Trullén 4P Herrero 5Affiliations expand


Background: Minimally invasive non-surgical techniques have been widely used worldwide to treat musculoskeletal injuries. Of these techniques, injectable pharmaceutical agents are the most commonly employed treatments, with corticosteroids being the most widely used drugs. The aim of this article is to review current scientific evidence as well as the effectiveness of minimally invasive non-surgical techniques, either alone or combined, for the treatment of plantar fasciitis.

Methods: This systematic review was conducted from April 2016 until March 2017, in accordance with the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) statement and was registered with PROSPERO. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of adult patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis were included as well as intervention studies, with a minimal sample size of 20 subjects per study (10 per group). Assessment of study eligibility was developed by three reviewers independently in an unblinded standardized manner. The physiotherapy evidence database (PEDro) scale was used to analyse the methodological quality of studies.

Results: Twenty-nine full-text articles on minimally invasive techniques were reviewed. These articles focused on corticosteroid injections, platelet-rich plasma, Botox, dextrose injections, as well as comparative studies with dry needling vs sham needling.

Conclusion: The treatment of plantar fasciitis has dramatically improved in the past decade with minimally invasive techniques becoming increasingly available. Research findings have shown that the long term effects of minimally invasive (non-surgical) treatments such as shock wave therapy, botulinum toxin type-A injections, platelet-rich plasma injections and intratissue percutaneous electrolysis dry needling show similar and sometimes better results when compared to only corticosteroid injections. The latter have been the mainstay of treatment for many years despite their associated side effects both locally and systemically. To date, there is no definitive treatment guideline for plantar fasciitis, however the findings of this literature review may help inform practitioners and clinicians who use invasive methods for the treatment of plantar fasciitis regarding the levels of evidence for the different treatment modalities available.

Keywords: Dry needling; Injections; Invasive; Pain; Physical therapy modalities; Plantar fasciitis; Plantar heel pain; Therapeutics.

Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Comparing Two Dry Needling Interventions for Plantar Heel Pain: A Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial

Zaid Al-Boloushi 1 2 3Eva María Gómez-Trullén 1Pablo Bellosta-López 2María Pilar López-Royo 1 2Daniel Fernández 2Pablo Herrero 4Affiliations expand

Free PMC article


Background: Both manual therapy techniques and dry needling have shown to be effective treatment options for the treatment of plantar heel pain; however, in recent years, other techniques based on dry needling (DN), such as percutaneous needle electrolysis (PNE), have also emerged. Currently, PNE is being used in clinical practice to manage myofascial trigger points, despite the lack of studies comparing the effects of this technique over dry needling. Therefore, the aim of this randomized controlled study is to compare the effectiveness of DN versus PNE for improving the level of pain experienced by patients suffering from plantar heel pain provoked by myofascial trigger points.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial will be conducted with blinded participants and outcome assessors. A sample of 94 patients with a medical diagnosis of plantar heel pain will be recruited and divided into two treatment groups. Eligible participants will be randomly allocated to either (a) treatment group with DN and a self-stretching home program or (b) treatment group with PNE and a self-stretching home program. Each group will receive one treatment session per week over a period of 4 weeks. The primary outcome measure will be the pain subscale of the Foot Health Status Questionnaire. The secondary outcome measures will be a visual analogue scale for pain (average and highest level of pain experienced during the previous 48 h; level of pain immediately after the treatment session) and health-related quality of life (assessed using the EuroQoL-5 dimensions). Cost-effectiveness data will be extracted based on the EuroQoL-5 dimensions. Follow-up measurements will take place at baseline and at 4, 8, 12, 26, and 52 weeks.

Discussion: The justification for this trial is the need to improve current understanding regarding the effectiveness of treatments targeting the rehabilitation of plantar heel pain. This study will be the first randomized controlled trial to directly compare the effectiveness of DN and PNE combined with a specific stretching program for the treatment of plantar heel pain provoked by myofascial trigger points.

Trial registration: Clinical Trials NCT03236779. Registered at 2 August 2017.

Keywords: Cost-effectiveness; Dry needling; Myofascial trigger points; Percutaneous needle electrolysis; Plantar heel pain; Self-stretching protocol.