What is Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) Dry Needling?

What is IMS?

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is a specialized physiotherapy treatment designed to alleviate chronic pain and muscle tightness. It targets specific muscles or trigger points that contribute to your discomfort by using fine, sterile acupuncture needles.

The primary goal of IMS is to stimulate a healing response within the affected muscles, release tension, and enhance nerve function. This technique encourages the body’s natural healing mechanisms and helps to restore optimal muscle performance.

If you’re struggling with persistent pain or muscle stiffness that hasn’t improved with other treatments, IMS might be a suitable option for you!

            The Origin Story…

In the 1970s, Dr. Chan Gunn made his ground-breaking IMS discovery right here in Vancouver, BC. He had encountered many patients that suffered from chronic pain even though the patients weren’t suffering from major injuries like broken bones or damaged tendons.

Although Dr. Gunn was trained in Western medicine, he also had a sound knowledge base in Chinese Acupuncture. He realized that most chronic pain his patients were experiencing was a result of the nerves overstimulating the muscles.

He called this “neuropathic pain”. He figured he could reduce patients’ pain if he ‘re-booted’ the nervous impulses feeding the muscles. To achieve this ‘re-boot’, he used Acupuncture needles to stimulate the affected muscles.


What to expect from your IMS Dry Needling treatment?

  1. At Synergy Rehab, your Vancouver IMS-trainedphysiotherapist will first perform a specialized assessment to determine if you’re an appropriate candidate for IMS treatment.
  2. Your local physio will begin by thoroughly cleaning the area and sterilizing it with alcohol.
  3. A sterile filament needle is then inserted through the skin, into the muscle. For clients who are nervous about this, we will help facilitate the process through breathing exercises—for example, inserting the needle during a breath in and removing it during a breath out.
  4. Depending on your situation, the needle may be inserted once quickly, or a few times consecutively to target different parts of a problem muscle.
  5. The entire process, from tapping into the skin, into the muscle, and out, can be completed in as little as 10seconds! This allows our team plenty of time to administer exercises, manipulation, and other modes of therapy during your session.


Will intramuscular stimulation hurt?

A few words our patients have used to describe IMS are achy, twitchy, and for some, weirdly satisfying.

You know the deep achy sensation you feel when getting a deep tissue massage? IMS will feel like that, but more sudden. Often, clients perceive the movement in the hypersensitive muscle as a ‘twitching’.

Twitching occurs when the muscle quickly contracts and then relaxes. Cramping happens when the muscle slowly contracts and then relaxes more slowly. These twitching and cramping reactions are signs that the muscle is not functioning normally. Normal muscles don’t feel a thing!

Since the needles are so small, they don’t produce the characteristic sharp “needle pain” you might expect. This insertion of needles is also commonly referred to as Dry Needling.


Why do my muscles feel stiff?

Muscles react in the above way, contracting and relaxing, because of something called the stretch reflex. The stretch reflex is a sensory mechanism within the muscles that determines the length and tension of the muscle. When the stretch receptors are stimulated, the muscles will always be contracted to some degree.

This makes your muscles feel tight all the time. Some patients describe these muscles as feeling stiff or taut, which is a hallmark sign of a dysfunctional muscle that may be suitable for intramuscular stimulation. The purpose of IMS is to normalize this stretch reflex and reset the ideal length-tension in the muscle.

IMS was developed as a remedy for chronic muscle pain and tension from muscles held in a consistently shortened/tight state. The pain in these muscles can go away briefly, but often returns whenever you try to contract or stretch them again. If this sounds like what you’re experiencing, consult a Surrey physiotherapist to see if IMS could help you.

Are you a candidate for IMS? Schedule an appointment at Synergy Rehab to find out!

If you think you might benefit from IMS, it’s a good idea to talk to one of our expert physiotherapists about treatment in Surrey, BC. Our goal is to always help you get back to doing the things you love, pain-free. We’ve got your back.