Needling: IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation or Dry Needling) & Acupuncture

IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation or Dry Needling)

Dry needling is a technique Physiotherapists use for the treatment of pain and movement impairments. The technique uses a "dry" needle, one without medication or injection, inserted through the skin into a trigger point of a tight muscle.

Other terms commonly used to describe dry needling, include trigger point dry needling, and intramuscular stimulation.

What is a Trigger Point?

A trigger point is a taut band of skeletal muscle located within a larger muscle group. Trigger points can be tender to the touch, and touching a trigger point may cause pain to other parts of the body.

Why Dry Needling?
In cases when dry needling is used by Physiotherapists, it is typically one technique that's part of a larger treatment plan. Physiotherapists use dry needling with the goal of releasing or de-activating trigger points to relieve pain or improve range of motion. Research supports that dry needling improves pain control, reduces muscle tension, and normalizes dysfunctions of the motor end plates, the sites at which nerve impulses are transmitted to muscles. This can help speed up the patient's return to active rehabilitation.

As part of their entry level university education, Physiotherapists are well educated in anatomy and therapeutic treatment of the body. Physiotherapists who perform dry needling supplement that knowledge by obtaining specific postgraduate education and training. The Physiotherapists at Active Living Physiotherapy have postgraduate training in Dry Needling from various clinical courses. 

What to expect
You may feel a muscle ache or cramp (‘twitch response’) when the needle is inserted into the trigger point. This sensation may be felt locally or along a pain referral pattern that is reproduced away from the treatment site. It is normal and common to feel muscle soreness for 24-48 hours, similar to when you participate in a new physical activity. This typically feels different than the symptoms for which you are seeking treatment. Post-treatment soreness can be lessened by applying heat (warm bath or hot pack) or using ice, movement and/or stretches (as directed by your Physiotherapist.)

Acupuncture is the insertion of fine, single-use, sterile disposable needles into the skin to stimulate the nervous system and specific myofascial trigger points to promote healing in the body. Acupuncture is based in Traditional Chinese Medicine and uses specific points along 12 meridians in the body to create balance in the body. When the body is healthy and in balance, energy flows smoothly through the body along meridians. When this balance of energy flow is disrupted it can cause dysfunction or injury.

Acupuncture is safe and effective for treating numerous conditions in conjunction with Physiotherapy. It works by stimulating endorphins (our body’s natural “pain-killers”) through the insertion of fine needles into specific anatomical points to decrease pain and improve body function of affected areas.

Does Acupuncture Hurt?
Some people feel minimal to no sensation during treatment, others will feel minimal discomfort when the needles are placed. Once the needles are in place, little to no discomfort should be felt. A feeling of warmth, tingling and sometimes numbness around the needle placement are common sensations during the treatment.

Our Physiotherapists performing acupuncture are certified by the Acupuncture Foundation of Canada. Acupuncture is used as an adjunct to physiotherapy treatment.

What is the difference between IMS and Acupuncture?

There are many similarities between IMS and Acupuncture, and we understand it can be confusing to know what the difference is!

Both IMS and Acupuncture use a thin, monofilament disposable needle that penetrates the skin. Our Physiotherapists adhere to infection control precautions and use single-use, sterile needles. The sterile needles are disposed of in a medical sharps container.

Acupuncture is a practice based on traditional Chinese medicine whereas IMS needling is a part of modern Western medicine principles.

IMS needling is the insertion of fine needles into specific muscle “trigger points” or tight bands to release tension, decrease pain and improve movement. Acupuncture is the insertion of fine needles into specific acupuncture points along meridians of the body to stimulate the body’s release of natural painkillers (endorphins) and anti-inflammatory mediators, and can produce effects in areas of the body other than just the area of needling.

During IMS the needles are taken out right away, whereas with acupuncture they can be left in for 15-20 min.

Acupuncture tends to have little to no pain or discomfort during treatment, while IMS can create some short-term discomfort during and after a treatment for 24-48 hours.

If either Acupuncture or IMS is a proposed treatment for you, the risks, benefits and other treatment options will be discussed and any questions that you have will be answered prior to obtaining informed consent for needling.

*IMS/Dry Needling treatment performed by a Registered Physiotherapist is covered by many extended health insurance plans. Active Living Physiotherapy can direct-bill most extended health insurance companies.
Don’t hesitate to ask your Physiotherapist which one is right for your condition.