What is IMS?
Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is a unique treatment for the relief of muscular pain that combines traditional acupuncture techniques with modern, scientific neurophysiological principles of western medicine. During IMS treatment, acupuncture needles are inserted into muscles to relieve painful conditions caused by nerve dysfunction. The location points for the needles are determined by detailed physical examination based on western anatomical knowledge. The result is an effective treatment for chronic pain of neuropathic origin.
How does Chronic Pain Occur?
Healthy muscles require electrical stimulation from a nerve. If the nerve becomes damaged due to trauma, disuse or degeneration, the muscles and other structures stimulated by that nerve become hypersensitive. This increased sensitivity can lead to tightness and trigger points, or knots, within the affected muscles, and this in turn can develop into chronic pain.
What Conditions can be treated with IMS?
IMS can treat many conditions that are caused by nerve dysfunction and chronic muscle tightness when there is no acute injury or ongoing inflammation. IMS can relieve low back pain, neck pain, rotator cuff impingement in the shoulder, frozen shoulder, tennis and golfer’s elbow, Achilles tendonopathy, repetitive strain injuries and whiplash and other soft tissue injuries.
Is IMS Treatment Painless?
During an IMS treatment session, thin acupuncture needles are inserted directly into the affected muscles. If a muscle is functioning normally, the needle is painless. However, if a muscle is supersensitive due to nerve damage, a patient will feel a peculiar sensation, much like a muscle cramp or Charlie Horse. This distinctive type of discomfort occurs because the muscle is grasping the needle. Patients soon learn to welcome this cramping and often call it “good” pain, as it indicates that a tight muscle has been identified and muscle relaxation and pain relief will soon follow.
How Does IMS Treatment Work?
The effect of IMS is cumulative. The insertion of the needle stimulates healing three ways: first, the needle stimulates a stretch-receptor in the muscle causing the muscle to relax. Second, the needle creates a tiny irritation which draws blood to the area, stimulating the natural healing process. Third, the needle creates an electrical potential in the muscle that initiates healing of the nerve.
What is Neuropathic Pain and the Shortened Muscle Syndrome?
Neuropathic pain can arise and persist indefinitely in the absence of a detectable permanent injury or inflammation. It is often felt as a diffuse pain or a deep ache which is sometimes hard to localize. The most common cause of neuropathic pain is nerve irritation caused by spondylosis, a degeneration in the spine that leads to narrowing of the nerve root canal. This in turn leads to irritation of the nerve root which is neuropathy. The muscles innervated by that nerve root become shortened and painful. As a muscle shortens it contracts, causing pain as it pulls and strains tendons and distresses the joints they move. Muscle shortening also increases wear and tear on the joints themselves and contributes to degenerative changes such as tendonopathy and osteoarthritis.
IMS Treatment Goals
The goal of IMS treatment is to reverse the muscle shortening. This relieves the pain by desensitizing supersensitive muscles that perpetuate the nerve compromise. When the nerve is in a healthier environment the pain cycle is broken. Regular treatments are usually scheduled once a week to allow time between sessions for the body to heal itself. The number of treatments required depends on the duration and extent of the patient’s condition, how much scar tissue is present and how quickly the body can heal. The rate of healing typically depends on the health of the nervous system, with younger people healing more quickly, and recent pain requiring fewer treatments than chronic conditions.
Who Practices IMS?
Certified Physicians and Physiotherapists practice IMS. Dr. Chan Gunn, a chronic pain specialist and founder of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Pain (iSTOP) first developed IMS in the 1970s in Vancouver, B.C. Dr. Gunn is currently President of the Institute and also a clinical
professor at the Multi Disciplinary Pain Centre at the University of Washington in Seattle. For his contributions towards solving chronic pain, Dr. Gunn has been awarded the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada. He has also been elected Honorary fellow of Peterhouse
For more information on IMS treatment contact:
Anthea Cameron BSc (PT), FCAMT, IMS: *CGIMS
Denise Morbey BSc (PT), FCAMT, IMS: *CGIMS