Solving Chronic Musculoskeletal or Neuropathic Pain with Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

Our everyday activities require optimal performance from our greatest possession: our body. In everything we do, what we need is physical wellness and mental wellbeing that would help us fulfill our greatest potentials. What could hinder this greatly is any sort of pain we suddenly experience. When we feel pain, our productivity is disrupted and causes stress to our body both physically and mentally.

While feeling pain is not necessarily bad as it is our body’s way of reminding us that we have limitations and should take breaks once in a while, it is important for this problem to be resolved as soon as possible to ensure comfort and productivity for ourselves. Fortunately, there are many modern advances that can be used as a solution to musculoskeletal or neuropathic pain. One great method is what we call as Intramuscular Stimulation.

And, the good news – we have expert physiotherapists that can help you with Intramuscular Stimulation.

What is intramuscular stimulation (IMS)?

Intramuscular stimulation (IMS), is an alternative medicine technique utilized by physiotherapists up until today. Similar to acupuncture, it uses very fine needles to find and diagnose muscle shortening in deep muscles. The muscle shortening builds tension that causes the chronic musculoskeletal or neuropathic pain commonly experienced in the neck and back area, and in some soft tissue injuries. This is what the treatment aims to cure and relieve.

IMS originated from Vancouver, was discovered and developed by Dr. Chan Gunn in the ‘70s. Today, he now offers training and certification for other medical professionals, which is necessary for performing such technique to patients, in his Institute for the Study and Treatment of Pain (ISTOP) at the UBC Gunn IMS Center in the Division of Sports Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia.

How IMS Works?

Chronic pain usually occurs when a nerve malfunctions. In Intramuscular Stimulation, deep muscles are stimulated, which allows the dysfunctional nerve to be treated and normalized. It involves the insertion of needles, similarly used in acupuncture, into tight muscle bands or close to the spine to target the compressed nerve root. This action causes the muscle to grab unto the needle and cramp in response to a minor therapeutic injury created by the insertion.

As a result, a spinal cord reaction is triggered, letting the muscle relax and allowing the nerves to function normally again. Additionally, the wound created increases circulation, signaling the body to send blood and healing particles that would encourage the healing process for that tightened muscle band. Each treatment is cumulative in its process, allowing the muscles to restore gradually until the entire area is fully healed and painless.

What is the Difference of IMS With Acupuncture?

IMS and acupuncture are similar in a way that they utilize the same type of equipment: very fine needles. The two vary, however, in the type of technique used in the process.

By definition, acupuncture is an alternative medicine technique rooted in traditional Chinese medicine that involves stimulation of certain points in the body. By penetrating the skin with needles, it is meant to alleviate symptoms of pain and even treat various health conditions.

IMS, on the other hand, alleviates pain with the use of a specific technique carried out by a physiotherapist. The main difference between the two centers on the foundations that back up the treatment carried out. While acupuncture relies on traditional beliefs that revolve on altering the flow of the Qi (or energy) to relieve the pain, IMS is an evidence-based treatment, focusing on recommended “point” locations according to a body’s physiology and prescribing the right “dosages” for a particular ailment or health condition. IMS is also a combination of western and Chinese medicine.

Needless to say, acupuncture and IMS in Physiotherapy are not competitors, they both aim to treat pain and other health conditions.

Conditions Treated by IMS treatment Physiotherapy

IMS is defined to treat a number of conditions, as it targets to relieve musculoskeletal or neuropathic pain. It is also used to treat some musculoskeletal injuries. It is important to remember that this treatment must only be carried out by a licensed therapist to ensure optimal safety. The following conditions include:

  • Neck Pain
  • Low Back Pain
  • Headaches
  • Musculoskeletal problems
  • Tennis elbow
  • Shin splints
  • Tenosynovitis (inflammation surrounding the tendon)

How do we use IMS?

The main use of IMS is to decrease muscle pain and improve muscular function. Tight muscles cause some parts of your body to be misaligned, becoming the cause of poor posture, gait, and pain. To be able to improve and restore better posture and movement patterns, as well as to relieve symptoms of pain, IMS is used together with manual therapy and movement training.

During its process, the needles are inserted directly into muscle knots, or technically speaking, myofascial trigger points. When they are inserted in the right location, this technique will cause the muscle to twitch. This will cause muscle tension and pain to decrease, improving muscle function.

At Evergreen Rehab and Wellness, we have expert Physiotherapists trained for IMS. They can apply it effectively and safely. Each of your treatment plan is started with a complete and thorough assessment. Then, they will provide a plan containing a combination of techniques such as manual therapy, exercises and education.

Frequently Asked Questions

It is possible for the treatment to hurt, but it eventually becomes a time of pain you’ll find satisfying. Once IMS provides your body with relief and improvements, it makes you want to look past the uncomfortable aspects of the treatment. However, the treatment may hurt during and after treatment, depending on how sensitive the area being treated is. After the treatment, the pain usually lasts for about 24 hours, and is similar to getting a vaccination. Light physical activity can help alleviate the pain faster.

Immediately after the treatment, patients often notice improved movement. To determine the appropriate treatment sites for you, you will need to complete a detailed medical evaluation. Not until the needle enters the shortened muscle, the process of inserting the needles is not usually painful. A deep aching sensation will be experienced upon this insertion, indicating that the muscle is hypersensitive.

IMS treatments may vary depending on several factors. These include general health, age, extent and severity of condition, number of scar tissues, and how your body responds to treatment. The physical therapist will be able to design the perfect amount of treatment sessions for you based on your condition regarding the factors aforementioned.

Usually, it will take between 4-10 IMS sessions to complete the treatment course, with typically about 1-2 weeks in between sessions. Temporary soreness may surface after the treatment, but will subside in a day or so.

The effects of IMS are progressive. It begins with a small amount of healing each session, but gradually restores the affected area after all the sessions are completed.

Soreness is expected after the treatment which usually lasts around 24 to 48 hours. To ease the soreness, one may opt to do the following:

  • Increasing your water intake
  • Soaking within a hot bath
  • Avoid doing workout and stretches, depending on your comfortability level
  • Use a heating pad, instead of ice, to relieve areas of soreness.

Most physiotherapists have advanced training to provide this type of treatment. It is best to be able to receive IMS treatment from someone licensed to perform such to ensure safety for your body and health.

Side effects and risks are discussed prior to your treatment by your physiotherapist. Some of its side effects include: fatigue, muscle soreness, muscle tension, and stress. However, these side effects can also be relieved, depending on the activity recommended by your physiotherapist.

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