You’re in pain and the sensation just won’t go away. You may have had an X-ray or an MRI that has not discovered any problem, but the pain continues to linger. You are at your wits’ end, worrying that your quality of life will never improve, when someone recommends that you explore intramuscular stimulation (IMS). What, you wonder, is that?
What is IMS Therapy?
IMS, or intramuscular stimulation, is a treatment for acute or chronic pain with a neuropathic (nerve) origin. It relies on the insertion of acupuncture needles, either into tender muscles or at sites near the spine where a nerve root may have become extremely sensitive.
It targets muscles that have become shortened (distressed). These spots can be problem points in the body, because contracted muscles don’t always heal properly and they press on the nerves and irritate them.
IMS therapy helps the muscles to relax and the healing process to begin. In other words, it treats the root causes of the pain you are experiencing.
Why the Pain?
Pain that occurs when there isn’t any obvious sign of tissue damage or inflammation can be perplexing and frustrating. If you can’t identify a cause, how can you obtain treatment?
Neuropathic pain generally occurs when nerves malfunction after a minor irritation. They become very sensitive and their innocent signals are misinterpreted by the brain as pain.
IMS Treatment Explained
During your IMS treatment, a physiotherapist or other trained practitioner will insert acupuncture needles into the affected muscles. Insertion of an ultra-fine acupuncture needle into a healthy muscle is painless. However, when a needle enters a shortened muscle, it grasps the needle, and this can result in a cramping sensation. This action has a threefold impact:
- It stimulates a stretch receptor in the muscle, causing it to lengthen (relax).
- It causes a tiny injury that draws blood to the area, stimulating the natural healing process; the blood contains a Platelet Derived Growth Factor to promote healing.
- The stimulation causes electrical potential in the muscle, allowing it to return to functioning normally.
An IMS treatment has very few side effects and the relief is lasting.
When is Intramuscular Stimulation Used?
Intramuscular Stimulation is generally used for soft tissue pain when there is no sign of tissue damage or inflammation, but the pain persists. It is employed for various types of neck and back pain, frozen shoulder, tennis elbow and fibromyalgia, as well as other complaints.
It is useful in cases where the injury is too deep for other types of treatment to reach, such as pain in the pelvic area.
How Often Do You Need IMS Therapy?
The impact of IMS therapy is cumulative. After each IMS therapy session with your physiotherapist, the muscle heals a bit. Eventually, the muscle shortens and the pain dissolves. Most patients have IMS sessions weekly, but some prefer to come every other week to provide a longer recovery period.
The number of IMS treatments required is based on:
- The type of injury.
- The duration and extent of the pain.
- Whether the injury is recent.
- The amount of scar tissue that has accumulated.
What are the Origins of Intramuscular Stimulation?
Intramuscular Stimulation originated in Vancouver in the 1970s, developed by Dr. Chan Gunn, a physician who was then working at the Workers Compensation Board. Dr. Gunn saw numerous patients whose conditions refused to respond to traditional treatment and began investigating the reasons for unresponsiveness and the potential solutions.
Intramuscular stimulation and is an anatomy specific form of acupuncture performed by specially trained physiotherapists. Although it is similar to acupuncture, IMS practitioners don’t insert needles into meridians of the body. Instead, after a medical examination, the patient visits an IMS practitioner who inserts needles based on the diagnosis.
Once your IMS treatments have dealt with your pain, you may want to talk with your physiotherapist about ways to ensure that you don’t injure your muscles and nerves again in the same way. Movement retraining can help you learn to erase any bad movement habits you have developed. Poor habits can be the result of:
- Asymmetry in movement developed at work or during recreational activities; or
- Previous injuries.
Your physiotherapist can help you assess which muscles you tighten unnecessarily and which movements you make poorly. Once you are able to recognize these weaknesses, you can practise not tightening these muscles automatically and learn to activate other muscles to balance your responses.
Movement retraining of this nature can help your body accomplish various tasks better, including sitting in a chair, squatting to retrieve something from the floor or unleashing your golf swing.