Dry needling for rotator cuff injury can reduce pain, improve range of motion, and help you return to being active. Even if you’ve already had surgery, dry needling after rotator cuff surgery may still be an effective option to treat your shoulder issue.

Most rotator cuff injuries respond well to dry needling, strengthening exercises and other supportive therapies and don’t require surgery. Exceptions may be full-thickness rotator cuff tears or traumatic injuries where multiple structures of the shoulder are damaged.

In this content, I’m going to answer some of your questions regarding rotator cuff injury and dry needling such as:

  • Dry Needling for Rotator Cuff Injury – What is a Course of Treatment Like?
  • Dry Needling After Rotator Cuff Surgery – Can you do it and What’s it Like?


Dry Needling for Rotator Cuff Injury – What is a Course of Treatment Like?

If you’re considering trying dry needling for your rotator cuff injury, and you’ve never been treated with dry needling, let’s look at a typical course of treatment.

Exam and Diagnosis of Rotator Cuff Injury

If you’ve already had your shoulder looked at by an orthopedic surgeon, primary care doctor, another chiropractor, or a physical therapist you may already have been diagnosed. This makes my job a little easier, but I’m still going to examine your shoulder and give you my opinion and diagnosis.

X-rays, diagnostic ultrasounds, and/or MRIs can be helpful but I typically don’t order them right away as a rule. Imaging increases the cost of care and doesn’t always improve the outcome of your shoulder recovery.

I’ll palpate the shoulder, look at your shoulder range of motion, do some orthopedic tests, check your muscle strength, evaluate your reflexes, and check for any sensation abnormalities (like numbness or tingling.) The exam is thorough and helps me decide what treatment strategy is best for you, whether it’s dry needling, another treatment, or a referral.

Dry Needling Treatment for the Rotator Cuff

Once I decide the best treatment for your rotator cuff injury, we’ll start a course of dry needling. I typically advise a plan like this:

  • 6 Treatment sessions (30-minute appointments) where we’re dry needling rotator cuff muscles and any other muscles or tissues that may be contributing.
  • Teach you rotator cuff strengthening exercises during our appointments, and give you advice on how often to perform them at home.
  • Use therapeutic ultrasound, heat, Graston Technique, and Kinesiotape for the rotator cuff as needed for supportive treatment.
  • Re-evaluate your shoulder each visit and continue to progress you through more advanced shoulder strengthening exercises.
  • Measure our goals continuously, whether that be reducing pain, increasing range of motion, or return to certain activities.

Dry needling for rotator cuff injury should not be a stand-alone therapy, and our Cary Chiropractors don’t use it as one. With strengthening exercises and dry needling, lots of rotator cuff injuries improve and resolve without surgery.

After a Course of Dry Needling for Rotator Cuff Injury

You’re not going to need to continue dry needling treatments forever, but I typically recommend my patients continue with their rotator cuff strengthening exercises with some regularity. 

It’s also beneficial to get involved in some sort of regimented strength training like CrossFit or just weight lifting on your own to create functional strength and maintain a strong shoulder. If you’re not exercising and strength training you become deconditioned which probably increases the likelihood you may have another injury down the road.


Here’s a diagnostic ultrasound image of a full-thickness rotator cuff tear. This shoulder most likely needs orthopedic surgery and the patient is probably in a great deal of pain.


Dry Needling After Rotator Cuff Surgery

I typically don’t see patients immediately after rotator cuff surgery.

Orthopedic surgeons are going to send you to physical therapy for this (and they’re a good provider for post-surgical rehab.) I have a buddy in Minnesota who does this, and he’s really good at it. He may or may not use some dry needling during your recovery process as part of his physical therapy plan.

If you’re PT isn’t trained in dry needling, then sometimes I’ll do some dry needling while you continue to see PT.

What I frequently see, is that physical therapy helps but the patient still has pain and/or limited range of motion, It may be a year after surgery or even longer. The PT may have got you as far as they can, or maybe insurance stopped paying for treatment.

In these cases, I’ll use dry needling after rotator cuff surgery to help reduce pain, increase shoulder range of motion, and help the patient return to normal function. At this point, you may have post-surgical scar tissue that has built up around the surgical site which can produce pain and movement limitations.

Again, I won’t use dry needling as a stand-alone therapy but as part of a comprehensive treatment strategy (usually exercises and Graston Technique instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization.)

Here’s a neat case study where dry needling after shoulder surgery resulted in greater strength and muscle thickness –>DRY NEEDLING INCREASES MUSCLE THICKNESS IN A SUBJECT WITH PERSISTENT MUSCLE DYSFUNCTION: A CASE REPORT

Where to Get Dry Needling for Rotator Cuff Injury

Our chiropractic office offers dry needling for rotator cuff injury in Cary NC, as well as dry needling for back pain, neck pain, hip pain, and other injuries. 

Dr. Jason Williams is trained in acupuncture as well as dry needling and has treated rotator cuff injuries successfully using dry needling techniques. If you’re looking for more information regarding dry needling for shoulder pain and injuries see some of our other content here:

–> Dry Needling for Shoulder Injuries

–> Dry Needling for Shoulder Tightness

–> Dry Needling for Frozen Shoulder

–> Dry Needling for Shoulder Impingement

Dr. Jason Williams DC is a chiropractic physician practicing at AccessHealth Chiropractic in Cary, NC. He treats neuromusculoskeletal pain and injuries using chiropractic manipulation, dry needling, acupuncture, rehab exercise strategies, and other supportive therapies. Primary areas of focus include back pain, neck pain, muscular pain, extremity pain, and orthopedic injuries. Dr. Williams is experienced in treating athletes, especially those in the CrossFit, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai, and MMA community.

If you’re interested in whether he or another AccessHealth provider can help you, navigate to our contact page or follow this link to request an appointment.