IMS Treatment

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What Is IMS Treatment?

IMS treatment, or intramuscular stimulation, uses tiny needles to stimulate a reaction in a muscle or tendon that has been damaged because of neuropathy – a damaged nerve that triggers muscle pain by sending an incorrect signal.

With this nerve damage, what often happens is the muscle shortens from its natural length into tightly constricted bands. This leads to restricted range of motion, soreness, weakened performance, and pain.

By inserting and properly manipulating a dry needle, the tightened muscle grips the needle and starts twitching. This reaction releases the muscle and sort of ‘resets’ the nerve that has been sending the pain signal. The muscle relaxes. And with the tiny puncture caused by the needle, blood and nutrients flow toward the muscle, speeding up the healing process and relieving the pain. 

And now that the muscle and the nerve can communicate properly again, you can resume normal activity. We have seen people who couldn’t play tennis, do housework, perform their job duties, or complete other tasks without pain suddenly feel liberated to start living their lives again – all without having to take pain meds.

Sometimes, it’s a little more complicated, and there is an injury or a weakened area that needs to be re-strengthened. That’s why IMS treatment is often coupled with a physiotherapy regimen of exercises and other activities. 

In this situation, IMS therapy heals the muscle and nerve problem and relieves your pain. And physiotherapy helps strengthen the muscle, joints, or tendons connected to it. That’s why we sometimes refer to IMS treatment as IMS physiotherapy, and it’s why many physical therapy clinics also offer IMS treatment as one of their services.

 

The Ultimate Guide to IMS Treatment

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The Ultimate Guide to IMS Treatment

Treating Pain by Restoring Proper Nerve Function

Looking for a new way to relieve your muscle and nerve pain that doesn’t involve medications? One of the bright new stars quickly gaining ground in the pain treatment world is IMS treatment – intramuscular stimulation. 

IMS therapy, founded by Dr. Chan Gunn in the 1970s, uses ultra-thin needles like those used in acupuncture, but in a very different manner and for a very different purpose. We’ll discuss the differences between these treatments a bit later. 

IMS treatment, when appropriate for what is causing your muscle, joint, tendon, or nerve pain, offers a method of both relieving the pain and addressing one possible root cause. Sometimes, IMS therapy is all you need, and some patients report dramatic improvements after just a couple visits. For other conditions, longer treatment plans are needed, and IMS treatment works great in tandem with a physiotherapy treatment plan. 

Let’s dive a little deeper. What is IMS physiotherapy treatment?

 

When Is IMS Treatment Used?

Broadly speaking, IMS treatment can be a very effective method for treating pain in your muscles, joints, and tendons, especially when the communication between the nerves and the muscles are part of the problem. 

If you have tension in your muscles, tightness, or soreness that refuses to go away and seems to linger or even get worse when you’re just trying to go about your day, IMS therapy may be the fastest way to correct the problem. Getting help from a physiotherapist trained in IMS treatment and in how to assess these issues will help you determine your best course of action. 

One reason you want to see a trained specialist is because neuropathic pain does not show up on CT scans, x-rays, or MRIs. When the issue causing your pain is the communication between the nerves and the muscles, IMS therapy may offer your best chance at fast relief. 

Failure to consider intramuscular stimulation as a treatment option can lead to excessive costs and failed efforts to relieve pain using other means that won’t work because they aren’t addressing the root cause – if that cause is neuropathy. Again, only a trained specialist can accurately diagnose this. 

IMS treatment can also play a key role in improving muscle strength, such as when muscles are weakened due to prolonged inactivity. For instance, if you are recovering from a severe injury like a broken bone and have gone several months with a cast, unable to use the muscles surrounding the injured area, IMS physiotherapy can help you rebuild the strength of these muscles and tendons once you get rid of the cast.

One of the best things about IMS treatment is that it is completely adaptable to your needs. This is one key difference between IMS treatment and acupuncture as we’ll see in a bit. If you have jaw pain, ankle pain, shoulder pain, back pain, elbow pain, knee pain, or pain almost anywhere else caused by nerve or muscle damage of the sort we’ve been describing, IMS treatment can be targeted just to that area. 

And, it can also be used on the surrounding areas. Often, the ‘compensating muscles’ nearby the site of pain will play a key role in strengthening the injured area. Treating these muscles can lead to faster and more permanent pain relief. 

IMS treatment has been used with great success to treat conditions such as:

  • Deep tissue pain – when pain feels under the surface, deep in the muscles
  • Chronic low back pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Fibromyalgia 
  • Injuries from car accidents or the workplace 
  • Headaches

Read the caption on this post by Infinity Physio Centre to learn more about how IMS works:

Does IMS Treatment Hurt?

The short answer is – not much, but you may feel it for a day or two.

Because IMS treatment often involves more needle movement and customized needle positioning than acupuncture, most patients who receive it say they feel the aftereffects a bit more as well. It is described by most as a ‘dull ache,’ or a deep cramp, sort of how you feel after a good workout. This is because the muscles have been stimulated, and it is a good sign.

But yes, you do feel it afterward, and sometimes some minor muscle soreness can linger for a day or two. You can manage it with heat, ice, or sometimes light exercise.

Here’s a video showing a patient receiving IMS treatment.

Other people compare the feeling of intramuscular stimulation to that of getting a flu shot. It lingers a bit and then goes away. So not everyone has the same experience.

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7 Ways IMS Treatment Is Different from Acupuncture

The use of dry needles is one of the few things in common between intramuscular stimulation and acupuncture. Other than that, they are different in almost every way. They are based on different foundations of knowledge and belief. They use different techniques. And they solve different problems.

1. IMS Is Based on Science, Acupuncture and Philosophy

This is not an implication that a philosophical belief is less worthy than a scientific one as a basis for healing. It is simply a different one. If it works, it works. The theories behind both treatments have very little in common, and these are the foundations upon which all the other techniques used by both treatments are based.

Acupuncture posits the idea of meridians, which channel energy throughout the body along particular lines. This determines where the needles get placed. The theory behind why acupuncture seems to work is that it releases chemicals that affect your muscles, spinal cord, and brain, which in turn affect your hormones and body systems, as well as your pain reactions.

In IMS therapy, needle placement depends on the specific injury, the muscles involved, the nerves in question, and other specifics that will be different for each patient. There is no ‘standard’ approach to IMS for where to place the needles. Each injury, and therefore each treatment, is different.

 

Check out this post, courtesy of Peak Health Calgary, to learn more about different types of acupuncture: 

 

 

2. Acupuncture Leave Needles Inserted for Longer Time

In a typical acupuncture session, once all the needles have been placed, they will be left inserted for 15 to 30 minutes, undisturbed. 

Whereas in an IMS treatment session, needles may be inserted for only a few minutes, sometimes much less. IMS is a much faster treatment than acupuncture.

3. Needles Are Manipulated in IMS Therapy

In acupuncture, the needles are inserted straight and left alone once all have been placed according to the plan. The patient is undisturbed for 15-30 minutes. But in IMS therapy, often the therapist will twirl or otherwise manipulate the needles so as to produce the designed response from the muscles and the nerves.

Remember, the idea with IMS treatment is to stimulate the muscles to grip the needle and then relax their tension and reset their communication with the nerve. This often requires some twirling motion and other techniques.

Watch this quick video to see how the needles are manipulated by a physiotherapist (courtesy of Sporting Edge Physiotherapy):

4. Deeper Needle Insertion in IMS Therapy

Needles are placed deeper into the muscles with IMS treatment. This makes sense, because again the whole point is to produce a reaction from the muscle. If you don’t reach the muscle or go deep enough to stimulate it, you won’t achieve the goal of the treatment. 

With acupuncture, needles are not inserted as deeply, and only in specific, predetermined locations.

To get a better idea, take a look at this quick video that shows exactly how deep the needles are inserted (courtesy of Sporting Edge Physiotherapy)

5. IMS Is More Targeted

For specific injuries on specific muscles and nerves, IMS therapy will likely be the more effective treatment option, because it can target that area. Shoulder injuries, jaw clicking, back pain, and other conditions.

Acupuncture is a more general approach to pain that may or may not be localized in a specific part of the body. For instance, WebMD points to several studies showing acupuncture to be an effective treatment for migraine headaches – a condition with a less specific and often less obvious causes. It is also effective with inflammation that is not localized to a particular muscle group.

Take a look at this quick video of a physiotherapy from Sporting Edge Physiotherapy performing targeted IMS treatment on a patient’s tight jaw mucles:

6. Acupuncture Produces Less Soreness

As mentioned earlier, IMS treatment sometimes leads to muscle soreness for a day or two. This is because of the increased levels of needle manipulation and targeted nature of the therapy. Because acupuncture is less invasive, it tends to produce less soreness. Most people report feeling no soreness at all. 

7. Different Methods of Diagnosis

Before conducting an acupuncture session, the therapist uses a more routine and systematic inspection, and follows the methods that are recommended based on the theory of needle placement. 

For IMS treatment, an examination and assessment from a clinician certified in IMS therapy involves much more. This trained specialist knows how to identify the symptoms of damaged nerve communication related to muscle tightness and contraction, as well as the tendinitis that can result. 

Does IMS Help Treat Back Pain?

Back pain, and especially low back pain, has a long list of possible causes, including:

  • Repetitive motion
  • Workplace injuries
  • Poor posture over long periods of time
  • Sports injuries
  • Auto accidents
  • Improper lifting technique

What makes low back pain particularly troublesome is that it can transition from a temporary pain to a chronic injury. If the discs in your spine get injured, and your vertebrae start rubbing against each other, these types of injuries can be very difficult to remedy, let alone live with.

Therefore, keeping your low back pain from becoming a chronic condition is a battle against time. Fixing the problem now, before it gets worse, can mean the difference between a life well-lived and a painful and much more costly struggle that never ends.

Do you want to be able to play with your grandkids on their level? Want to be able to do more than just sit and read to them (as good as that is!)? Then do whatever it takes to keep your back strong in the years leading up to those times.

Just like muscle injuries elsewhere in the body, when the nerves in an area become more sensitive, they can start sending the wrong signals to the affected tissues. Muscles tighten up and shorten. Blood flow reduces. Tension increases. Signals that normally travel through your nerves get replaced with pain signals.

Intramuscular stimulation can target these areas of your back, relax the muscles, reset the nerve-muscle communication, increase blood flow, and relieve the pain. More importantly, because the IMS therapy is addressing a root cause – neuropathy – you are protecting and preserving the long term health of your back.

How IMS Therapy Treats Shoulder Pain

Though back pain seems to get more attention in the media, shoulder pain is often even more debilitating and can destroy your quality of life. Think about how many basic tasks in life depend on having a shoulder and rotator cuff that work properly:

  • Reaching above your head – for anything
  • Lifting almost anything
  • Getting dressed
  • Working around the house
  • Showering
  • Cutting with a knife
  • Pulling
  • Playing most sports, even casually playing catch with your kid in the backyard
  • Steering your car
  • Even sleeping!

Shoulder pain can lead to neck pain and back pain because you will try to compensate for the lack of easy motion, pain, and stiffness in your shoulder.

There are actually four muscles and tendons that connect with the rotator cuff and allow the shoulder to move freely. If any one of these muscles tightens up and contracts, nerve function can get compromised and pain can interfere.

The resulting loss of pain-free motion combined with inflammation of the shoulder and surrounding areas can lead to major problems and a great loss in your quality of life.

We have seen many shoulder injuries in Waterview’s physiotherapy clinic. IMS therapy combined with physiotherapy has consistently resulted in the best possible outcomes. IMS helps relieve the muscle pain and restore proper nerve function, and physiotherapy helps strengthen the weakened or damaged muscles and tendons so the shoulder injury doesn’t resurface later.

Common Injuries Successfully Treated With IMS Treatment

Frequently Asked Questions

In most situations where IMS treatment is recommended, it will be completely safe. Situations where IMS might not be safe include people who are on certain medications like blood thinners, or who have a bleeding disorder. You should also not do IMS therapy while pregnant. Consult your IMS treatment specialist to be sure if it is safe and recommended for your situation.

IMS therapy helps relieve muscle and nerve pain by helping constricted muscles relax and improving blood flow. This increases the concentration of oxygen and nutrients around the muscle, accelerating healing after the muscle has been relaxed from its tightened, banded up condition. By relaxing muscles and accelerating healing, IMS treatment can also help prevent future injury and improve athletic performance.

This is just technical language. A ‘wet needle’ is a needle that injects something into the patient. A ‘dry needle’ is a needle that does not inject anything. Thus, IMS treatment and acupuncture are both forms of dry needling.

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IMS treatment is one of several possible methods for relieving pain that do not rely on prescription medications and all the side effects and baggage they come with. Not to mention that most drugs can only mask pain, but rarely address root causes. Find a clinic if you are suffering from muscle tightness, soreness, or pain to improve your quality of life, today.