Acupuncture and Intra-Muscular Stimulation (IMS) are two effective treatment options. They are used to treat a variety of conditions such as the neck and back pain you experience; but they can also be used to treat tendonitis, chronically tight muscles, headaches and many more. Although many people have heard these terms, most people do not know exactly what they are, or how they work. Both forms of treatment can be very effective, and may be the trick to getting rid of your ailment.
Anatomical Acupuncture is a form of treatment where very fine needles are inserted into certain points throughout the body. These points are based on anatomical structures and will stimulate muscles, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. The effects of acupuncture include reduced inflammation, reduced pain, and increased regeneration. This happens through the needle triggering an immune response which fights inflammation, releases endorphins which helps with pain, and a regenerative response to increase tissue growth. All of these reactions will help with pain and healing. Physiotherapists are not “Acupuncturists”, and the form of Acupuncture we use is tied to a western medicine diagnosis rather than Chinese medicine.
IMS was created to help with chronic pain. It is similar to Acupuncture, except the needles are inserted into taut “trigger points” in the muscle. This helps reset contracted muscles that have shortened from distress. The effects of releasing these tight muscles reduces pain as well as relieves pressure put on nerves by contracted muscles. Nerves that are under pressure can cause radiating and referred pain. IMS works through the muscle “grasping” onto the needle when it is inserted, which causes a cramping sensation and a muscle twitch. This triggers three reactions: a “relaxation reflex”, a small tissue injury that draws blood flow to the area stimulating the natural healing process, and an electrical impulse that resets the nerve to function normally again.
These two treatment techniques have many similarities, and many differences. Similarities include how it triggers a natural healing response, reduces muscle tension, and desensitizes nerves. Differences include how the treatment is administered, the overall sensation, and the science behind how they work.
During a treatment you can expect a full assessment and physiotherapy treatment. For acupuncture, the needles will be placed in certain points and left for 10-20 minutes. With IMS, the needles will be inserted and stimulated by the therapist, then immediately removed. You can expect some fatigue after treatment, and possible muscle soreness. Drinking water will be important to help battle these side effects. Overall they are alternative treatment methods that have been shown, in some cases, to give phenomenal results. Please discuss with a physiotherapist certified in Acupuncture or IMS to see if it is the right treatment for you.
If you would like more information on this topic, Sun City Physiotherapy will be hosting a free informational workshop on Thursday, November 15th at 6:30pm at Sun City Physiotherapy’s downtown location, 1468 St. Paul Street. Seating is limited. Please call 250-861-8056 to reserve your seat.
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Shelby Chittick MPT, B.Kin, CAFCI, FDN is a physiotherapist at the Sun City Physiotherapy Kelowna Lower Mission clinic. She has taken courses on anatomical acupuncture, Kinesio-taping, soft-tissue release, and the Mulligan technique, and is currently completing her orthopaedic levels. Shelby has experience as head athletic trainer for the UBC Men’s Volleyball Team and UBC Women’s Basketball Team. In addition, Shelby trained men’s rugby, lacrosse, and provincial soccer teams.
Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)
In this article I am going to focus on the treatment of chronic muscle and nerve pain and why it can be so difficult to find a solution for this type of pain. It is estimated that over one third of the adult population in North America suffers from chronic pain. That is a staggering statistic! This means that 1 of out of every third person out on the street is dealing with ongoing daily pain. Research shows that suicide is nine times more prevalent in people with chronic pain than with depression and it is estimated that in the United States, chronic pain affects more people than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined.
So is chronic muscle and nerve pain so common? To understand this question we have to look at the gradual process that happens to all of our bodies to some degree over many years. As harsh as it sounds, the reality is that as we age our bodies are slowly ‘rotting’. By the time we reach our 50’s and 60’s we will all get some amount of arthritis in our spine. How fast we ‘rot‘ depends on a variety of factors including our overall fitness levels, nutrition, the types of jobs we do, family genetics and any traumatic injuries we sustain along the way ie. motor vehicle accidents. As the arthritis in the spine progresses, the nerves that exit the small spaces between each spinal bone (vertebrae) start to become irritated. In response to this irritation, the muscles that these nerves supply then start to form tight bands. These bands are the ‘knots’ you feel when you rub sore muscles. The muscle bands not only cause pain but they also begin to pull at joints and tendons as well as compress the already sensitive nerves at the spine. These tight bands often do not respond to traditional treatment approaches such as stretching, massage and spinal manipulation.
A form of treatment that has been gaining popularity in the last 5 to 10 years for chronic muscle and nerve pain is Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). This treatment technique was developed by a Doctor in Vancouver by the name of Dr. Chan Gunn. Dr. Gunn developed this technique while working with people who were injured on the job and whose pain was not going away with traditional treatment approaches. What he found in these patients was that by stimulating their tight muscles with an acupuncture needle, the pain very often significantly improved or in many cases disappeared.
So the key to addressing this chronic pain process is to release the muscle tension. In an IMS treatment, when the needle enters the taut band the muscle will ‘grab’ the needle and a deep, cramping sensation is felt. Once the muscle grabs it then typically will ‘reset’ itself and begin to relax. When the tight muscle relaxes, a decrease in pain should follow. IMS is now being recognized and used by physiotherapists and doctors around the world to treat chronic pain of musculoskeletal origin. If you are suffering from ongoing muscle or nerve pain and haven’t had success with traditional types of treatment, IMS may be worth trying. For more information about IMS visit:www.istop.org
Graham Gillies is a registered Physiotherapist at Sun City Physiotherapy Winfield and is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Therapy and a certified Gunn IMS and acupuncture practitioner.
Intramuscular Stimulation, or IMS for short, is a technique used by physiotherapists since it was developed in the 1970’s in Vancouver by the pain specialist Dr. Chan Gunn. IMS is a total system for the assessment and treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain that has a neuropathic cause. It is grounded in western medical science and there is a growing body of evidence to support its efficacy.
Neuropathy refers to when a nerve is not functioning properly once it has exited the spinal cord. Often this occurs without any structural damage to the nerve meaning that x-rays and scans may look normal. Some indicators of neuropathy are pain in the absence of tissue damage, delayed onset of pain after an injury (e.g. in whiplash), and pain that gets worse after doing more activity. There are other specific physical signs that suggest there may be a neuropathic cause to a persons pain too. These signs will be picked up during the assessment and will indicate whether that person is a candidate for IMS treatment.
When nerve conduction is reduced in neuropathy, one of the main results is that the muscles that are supplied by that nerve become tight and shortened. This in itself can cause pain and supersensitivity of the muscle so even light touch to that area can feel very tender. The shortened muscle will also create more stress on the adjoining tendons and joints which can create problems in these structures causing further pain. Some common conditions in which an underlying neuropathy can be a factor are whiplash, chronic low back or neck pain, headaches, tendinitis, shoulder pain, and groin pain.
IMS involves the use of very thin needles which are inserted into the muscles that have been affected by neuropathy. This creates a ‘grasp’ or cramp sensation which causes the muscle to release, which in turn takes the tension off the surrounding structures. In this way supersensitive muscles can be desensitized and the persistent pull of short muscles can be released. When performed well IMS has a remarkable success rate, reducing symptoms in even long term chronic conditions that may have been present for months or even years, giving long lasting and often permanent results.