What is IMS?
Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is an effective treatment for musculoskeletal pain syndromes caused by nerve irritation (termed neuropathy). Neuropathy is described as a nerve that is not functioning properly but has normal structure. The neuropathy results in pain, muscle shortening and spasm, localized tenderness in the muscle, and localized swelling around the spinal segments. Temperature changes, sweating changes and/or altered sensations around the spine and extremities can also be present.
The IMS techniques were developed by Dr. Chann Gunn, MD and are now taught through the Institute for the Study for Treatment of Pain (iSTOP). Only physiotherapists and medical doctors are allowed to be trained and practice the IMS method.
The IMS treatment (which utilizes acupuncture needles) specifically targets the muscles that have contracted and become shortened. These shortened muscles compress and irritate the nerves. Through needling, the super-sensitive areas can be desensitized and the persistent pull and compression of shortened muscles can be released.
IMS relies heavily on a thorough physical examination of the patient by a physiotherapist who is trained to recognize the physical signs of neuropathic pain. This physical examination is indispensable since chronic pain is often neuropathic as opposed to structural. It is therefore invisible to X-rays, MRI tests, bone or CT scans.
How does IMS work?
IMS works in three ways:
- The most significant result of IMS is the stretch receptor in the muscle is stimulated, producing a reflex relaxation (lengthening). The needling of the muscle ultimately results in muscle relaxation, in other words the muscle tone is 'reset'.
- The needle causes a small injury that draws blood to the area, initiating the natural healing process.
- The treatment creates an electrical potential in the muscle to make the nerve function normally again.
What is the difference between IMS and acupuncture?
Both techniques utilize the same thin needles. IMS is based on the work of Chan Gunn, MD who developed a system of needling treatment based on the findings of neuropathic changes in the musculoskeletal system. Needling the tight painful band of muscle releases tension. This in turn allows increased mobility. As the mobility improves there is less irritation in that area allowing a patient to feel better.
Acupuncture is theorized to stimulate the nervous system to release chemicals in the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. These chemicals will either change the experience of pain, or they will trigger the release of other chemicals and hormones that influence the internal regulating system of the body.
Is anything injected?
IMS treatment involves dry needling of affected areas of the body without injecting any substance. The needle sites can be into the taut, tender muscle bands or they can be near the muscles of the spine where the spinal nerves have become irritated and super-sensitive.
Does IMS hurt?
Needle penetration of a normal muscle is painless. In contrast a shortened, super-sensitive muscle will 'grasp' the needle, in what can best be described as a cramping sensation. The sensation is unique to IMS and is definitely uncomfortable but typically only for a short time. Many people describe the cramp as a 'good hurt'.
Are there any side effects?
The most common side effect is localized muscle soreness either that day or the next. Quite often people feel quite fatigued after treatment.
How many visits do I need?
IMS has a remarkable success rate, as proven by the elimination of symptoms and signs, even for chronic long-standing pain. It can sometimes take 3-4 sessions to notice prolonged improvements in symptoms, though improvement are often found after the first session. On average, 8-10 sessions are usualy required.
What conditions does IMS help?
IMS is helpful for the following musculoskeletal conditions:
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- TMJ disorders
- Shoulder pain
- Frozen shoulder
- Tennis Elbow
- Golfer's Elbow
- Adductor strains
- Osteitis pubis
- Hip bursitis
- Piriformis syndrome
- Iliotibial band friction syndrome
- Patellofemoral pain syndrome
- Shin splints
- Plantar Fasciitis