Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is one of the treatment options offered at Balance Physiotherapy. IMS uses fine needles (the same needles used in acupuncture) to treat tight muscle bands that are implicated in many chronic and painful soft tissue injuries and conditions. IMS is different from acupuncture in its application since the needle insertion is indicated by physical signs as opposed to the meridians or energy paths of Chinese acupuncture. IMS is based on known scientific, neurophysiologic principles.
Pain that shows no obvious sign 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 misperceived as painful ones. This is known as supersensitivity. The result is pain even when medical tests show 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 subtle irritation at the nerve roots. Thus spondylosis can lead to neuropathy and supersensitivity with resultant muscle spasm and tightness in the muscle groups supplied by that nerve. Chronic muscle spasms can lead to muscle shortening which produces pain by pulling on tendons and straining them as well as distressing the joints they move. Chronic muscle shortening may also contribute to degenerative changes in soft tissues and joints such as tendinitis and osteoarthritis.
The shortened muscles don’t always respond to stretching while painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications only mask the pain. The goal of IMS is to release the shortened muscles which in turn will decrease the irritation of the nerves.
The needle insertion into your skin is usually not felt and if your muscle is normal, the application is painless. If, however, your muscle is supersensitive and shortened you will feel a sensation like a cramp or a Charlie horse as the needling causes the muscle shortening to intensify very briefly but 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, the 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 lower back pain, the average number of IMS treatments required was 8.2.