Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

What is Intramuscular Stimulation

Intramuscular stimulation, also known as dry needling, is an effective therapy technique used to treat pain that comes from muscles and/or nerves. IMS was developed by Dr. Chan Gunn in the 1970s when he was the clinic physician at the Worker’s Compensation Board of British Columbia. This treatment utilizes acupuncture needles to penetrate deep into the muscle tissue and it specifically targets muscles shortened due to abnormal stimulation from the nervous system. This is to produce a reflex relaxation and lengthening of the muscle. There is no use of electricity and no substances are injected. Rather, it is the mechanical stimulation of the insertion of the needle into the affected muscles that provides the therapeutic effect and allows for healing.

The effect is threefold:

1) Stretch receptors in the muscle are stimulated and this will produce a reflex relaxation and lengthening of the muscle;

2) The needle creates a minor therapeutic injury to the area to increase local blood flow and initiate the body’s natural healing process;

3) It creates an electrical potential in the muscle, causing the nerve to function normally again.

Only disposable (single-use), stainless steel needles are used so there is no risk of infection from this treatment. Overall, intramuscular stimulation is a safe form of therapy.

A wide range of musculoskeletal injuries can be treated with IMS including:

This type of treatment is very effective for chronic pain and recurring injuries because it gets to the root of the problem. Healthy muscles require electrical nerve stimulation. If a nerve becomes damaged, the muscles that are stimulated by that nerve become hypersensitive. This results in tightness of the muscles and the formation of trigger points, which can develop into chronic pain. Trigger points are irritable knots within a muscle that are painful when pressure is placed on them and can produce a significant amount of pain, making everyday tasks difficult.

How is IMS different from acupuncture?

Although the same needles are used, IMS and acupuncture are different forms of therapy treatment. IMS involve inserting and withdrawing the fine needles immediately whereas in acupuncture the needles remain inserted for a few minutes. With IMS, the needles are inserted directly into the trigger points to release pressure off irritated nerves. With acupuncture, needles are inserted along meridians to help the body restore ‘Qi’, the flow of the body’s energy.

Is IMS painless?

During an IMS treatment, thin acupuncture needles are inserted into the affected muscles. If the muscle is functioning normally, insertion of the needle will be painless. However, in a shortened supersensitive muscle due to nerve damage, it will ‘grasp’ the needle and the patient will feel discomfort and a cramping sensation. This, however, is a good reaction because it indicates that a tight muscle has been located and that muscle relaxation will soon follow.

What can I expect after getting IMS?

It is common and normal to feel some post-treatment soreness in the areas that were treated, similar to the feeling after a hard workout at the gym. This achy feeling may last for 24-48 hours following treatment and it is completely normal and considered a good reaction to the treatment.

How often are IMS treatments?

In order to allow time for the body to heal itself between treatments, it is recommended to have IMS treatment once a week. The number of treatments required depends on factors such as the patient’s condition, how much scar tissue is present, and how quickly the body can heal itself. The effects of IMS are cumulative.

Is IMS right for me?

Special assessment is done with the physiotherapist in order to determine if this modality is appropriate for your pain and injury. IMS is not recommended if you are pregnant or a hemophiliac. Also, please inform the physiotherapist is you are taking an anti-coagulant medication.


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