IMS, Intra Muscular Stimulation, is a similar technique to acupuncture as it uses fine needles to treat tight muscle bands that are implicated in many chronic and painful conditions such as neck and back pain as well as many other soft tissue injuries. However IMS differs from acupuncture in its application because needle insertion is indicated by physical signs as opposed to the non-scientific meridians of Chinese acupuncture. IMS is based on known scientific neuro-physiologic principles.
Pain that shows no obvious signs of tissue damage or inflammation such as headaches, backaches, “tennis elbow”, “frozen shoulder”, chronic muscle pain and a host of other soft tissue complaints are difficult to treat with traditional methods. The concept of “neuropathic pain” can help to explain this type of pain. Typically this occurs when nerves malfunction following minor irritation. Nerves and nerve endings become extremely sensitive and cause normal, harmless signals to be exaggerated and mis-perceived as painful ones. This is known as super-sensitivity. The result is pain even when medical tests shows that there is “nothing wrong”.
The most common cause of nerve irritation and neuropathic pain is spondylosis, which means degeneration in the spine; this can be the result of normal wear and tear to the discs and the joints of the spine. These wear and tear changes create narrowing of the discs and joints. Less space at the joints can cause irritation at the nerve roots. Thus spondylosis can lead to neuropathy and supersensitivity with resultant muscle spasm in the muscle groups supplied by that nerve. Chronic muscle spasm can lead to muscle shortening which produces pain by pulling on tendons and straining them as well as distressing the joints they move. Muscle shortening also increases wear and tear and contributes to degenerative changes such as tendinopathy and osteoarthritis.
Super-sensitivity cannot be operated on and muscle shortening from the super-sensitivity cannot be readily stretched out. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication only mask the pain. The goal of IMS is to release muscle shortening which presses on and irritates the nerves. Super-sensitive areas can be desensitized and the persistent pull of shortened muscles released with IMS.
The needle insertion into your skin is often not felt and if your muscle is normal, the application is painless. If, however your muscle is super-sensitive and shortened you will feel a sensation like a cramp or a “Charlie Horse” as the needling causes the abnormal muscle shortening to intensify very briefly and then release. This is a distinctive type of discomfort caused by the muscle grasping the needle which then very quickly disappears and is followed by a feeling of relaxation in the muscle. It is important to experience this sensation in order to gain lasting relief. The effects of IMS are cumulative – needling stimulates a certain amount of healing, until eventually the condition can more fully recover and pain dissipates and muscles loosen.
Treatments are usually once a week but can be spread out to two weeks, to allow time between treatments for the body to heal itself. The number of treatments you require will vary depending upon several factors such as the duration and extent of your condition, the amount of scar tissue there is and how quickly your body can heal. The rate of healing depends on the condition of your nerves and the amount of previous nerve irritation. If the pain is of recent origin, one or two treatments may be all that is necessary. More chronic problems will probably require more treatments. In published studies of patients with low back pain, the average number of IMS treatments required was about 8 in total.