Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) & Functional Dry Needling

IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation) & Dry Needling therapy – what does it mean?

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS), Dry Needling, and Gunn IMS are all common terms referring to similar needling therapies wherein needles are inserted into key muscle areas and manipulated. Specifically, IMS is a needling technique based on scientific principles of anatomy and physiology to treat myofascial (muscle pain) as well as pain of a neuropathic origin (neuropathy).

During an IMS session your physiotherapist uses a sterile, disposable, tiny filament needle (.2-.3mm gauge)  to cause a physiological change in shortened (or tight) muscle tissue.  This is typically done at the site of pain, but also safely adjacent to the spinal column to help normalize the nerve supply to the affected muscle. For example, your physiotherapist may needle your back to affect leg pain due to sciatica or a “pinched” nerve.

But what does that really mean?

IMS and/or Dry Needling are effective techniques supported by research to help manage muscle and nerve pain. Think of IMS and Dry Needling as a western form of acupuncture.  This form of physiotherapy treatment is relatively quick. The needles go in and out of the affected tissues in a matter of seconds. It is a safe procedure with an extremely low risk of adverse events or complications. It does not require the use of medications. In most cases, clients of REP Physio receiving IMS and/or Dry Needling as part of their treatment report improved function and less pain in as little as 1-3 sessions.

IMS Dry Needling Treatment

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IMS and Dry Needling: a key physiotherapy treatment for chronic pain

Oftentimes, degenerative changes in the spine (spondylosis) can cause irritation of sensitive nerve roots. As a result, the musculoskeletal systems that rely on these irritated nerves become tight and painful (neuropathic pain).

This can cause movement dysfunction and pre-mature wear and tear on bones and joints, including osteoarthritis and tendonitis despite no “overt” signs of trauma. With neuropathic pain, imaging studies (X-ray, MRI) are routinely normal, and conventional interventions (rest, medications) often fail.

With IMS, the needle is inserted into both the muscles along the spine that can compress sensitive nerve (the ”culprit”), and those muscles supplied by the irritated spinal nerves (the ”victim”).

Clients often note a cramping sensation when a tight muscle grasps onto the needle. This results in a lengthening of irritated or dysfunctional muscles and decreased muscle spasm. It takes the pressure off of sensitive nerves, bones, and joints.

The result is a healing response, and a normalization of function – an effective treatment of your chronic pain.

Will IMS or DRY NEEDLING help my pain?

The majority of individuals are candidates for this type of physical therapy.

Common muscle pains treated with dry needling:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Golfer’s elbow or tennis elbow
  • Headaches
  • Sports injuries
  • Discogenic pain and sciatica
  • And much more

The dysfunction and muscle tension caused by neuropathy can affect individuals of all ages. Your physiotherapists will discuss your symptoms with you and perform a detailed physical assessment to determine if your dysfunction may be attributable to neuropathy. He or she will then explain your condition and discuss how IMS / dry needling treatments can help.

Who is not a candidate for IMS or Dry Needling

Pregnant clients, those with rare, severe bleeding disorders, malignancy or who are immediately post-surgery are not typically clients for IMS or Dry Needling. Fortunately, for the most part, the majority of our clients area candidates for IMS and Dry Needling.

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Common dry needling questions:

How painful is IMS/ Dry Needling?

Dry Needling/IMS is typically associated with some mild to moderate procedural soreness. Most patients will not even feel the needle penetrate the skin, but once it has and is advanced into the muscle, the feeling of discomfort can vary from patient to patient. Usually a healthy muscle feels very little discomfort with insertion of the needle; however, if the muscle is sensitive and shortened or has active trigger points within it, the client may feel a sensation much like a muscle cramp – which is often referred to as a “twitch response”. Some clients describe this soreness as a “deep ache” and/or a “good pain”.  You may also find the soreness is similar to a “charlie horse” or muscle spasm.  Treatment soreness is typically mild to moderate in nature, and usually lasts no more than 24 hours, similar to a deep tissue massage.

How does Dry Needling compare to Acupuncture?

Dry Needling and IMS use the same type of acupuncture needles as traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture. What sets IMS and Dry Needling apart from acupuncture is the technique. Generally IMS/Dry Needling needles go deeper into tissues compared to acupuncture, but only for short (seconds) periods.  Comparatively, with acupuncture the needles are inserted more superficially and for longer periods (15+minutes).  Sometimes electrical stimulation is also used with Acupuncture, but not typically with IMS or Dry Needling.  Also, Dry Needling and IMS will only treat problems that are musculoskeletal in nature. Traditional chinese medicine acupuncture has a much broader scope of practice and can treat body dysfunction well beyond musculoskeletal pain (visceral pain, sleep disorders, stress, anxiety, etc.)

How long does it take to get better?

The effects of IMS and/or Dry Needling are cumulative. However, clients often notice a difference after just one session. Clients are typically seen 2-3x/week for care. With each session, IMS causes a healing response in the body until the pain and dysfunction disappear. In combination with therapeutic exercise, many clients are pain free following their IMS treatment program.

Typically, positive results are apparent within 1-3 treatment sessions but can vary depending on the cause and duration of the symptoms, as well as the overall health of the patient.

Is there a difference between IMS and Dry Needling?

The term IMS is sometimes used interchangeably with Dry Needling but there are some differences. IMS was developed by Dr. Chan Gunn in Vancouver BC. He was truly a pioneer of this treatment technique.   While IMS is not a protected term, Gunn IMS is a protected term. Said differently, many health care professions can perform IMS, however only physiotherapists and physicians who have taken Gunn IMS training can describe themselves as Gunn IMS practitioners.  REP Physio has providers trained in IMS, Gunn IMS and Functional Dry Needling

Both Functional Dry Needling and Gunn IMS/IMS refer to a therapeutic procedure that involves multiple advances of a filament needle into the muscle in the area of the body that produces pain and typically contains a “Trigger Point”, or shortened muscle. However, with IMS/Gunn IMS practitioners will typically focus on pain that is of a neuropathic (nerve) origin. This involves a slightly different assessment technique and will generally involve the insertion of needles along the spinal column. Dry Needling does not necessarily require the insertion of needles along the spinal column, but rather can treat muscle pain separate from any potential referral from the spine.

Can I continue to be active while undergoing my treatment?

Yes! You can continue to be active while undergoing either IMS or Functional Dry Needling. Your physiotherapist at our Edmonton physio clinics will work with you to design an activity or exercise program that meets the needs of your busy lifestyle.

Looking for Dry Needling in Edmonton?

Get in touch today to speak with us about IMS & Dry Needling.

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