Wellness Articles

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

woman undergoing acupuncture

Intramuscular stimulation, or IMS has become a popular method of relieving chronic and acute muscle pain and spasticity. IMS is extremely useful in treating skeletal muscle trigger points, or areas of shorted, contracted skeletal muscle that contribute to pain and dysfunction. Acupuncture needles, as opposed to much larger needles typically used for injections, are inserted directly into trigger points. This direct stimulation of the trigger point often precipitates fasciculation or muscle spasm, and relaxation of the affected muscle, leading to pain relief.

Specifically, IMS is used to treat neuropathic pain, resulting from skeletal muscle “supersensitivity”. According to Dr. Chann Gunn, a pioneer in the method of IMS and pain pathophysiology, supersensitivity is the process by which nerves become over sensitive to stimuli causing an increased perception of pain. “Super sensitive” muscles cannot be seen via medical imaging, and may only be identified via a combination of palpation, and patient history. Some deep muscles that aren’t easily palpated must be assessed via the insertion of acupuncture or IMS needles. If the suspected muscle is not functioning appropriately and contains trigger points, the patient will feel an odd, deep aching sensation. If the muscle is healthy and contracting appropriately, this deep aching sensation will not be experienced.

Once a trigger point has been identified and needled appropriately, the affected muscle will either start to spasm immediately, or tightly grasp the needle for a period of time. This “grabbing” sensation is a result of muscle stimulation and is transient, but is often perceived as a deep intense muscle ache that may radiate to bony attachments. As the trigger point begins to relax, the deep aching sensation subsides. If a muscle contains many trigger points, multiple treatments are often necessary – typically patients see complete relief with 8-10 sessions, but often benefit greatly after a single treatment.

Historically, the needling of muscular trigger points has contributed greatly to the treatment of pain and muscle dysfunction in traditional Chinese medicine. Traditional acupuncturists directly needle what are known at “ashi” points, or points of muscle tenderness and pain, with predictable referral patterns. Traditional acupuncturists will also typically needle additional points with therapeutic properties based on the patient’s presenting concerns and systemic health pattern.

Therapeutic IMS is an incredibly effective adjunct to chiropractic care and massage therapy, and is currently offered at Vitality Clinic.

Have a great day,
Dr. Kaleigh Anstett, ND

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