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What is IMS & Is It Right For Me

Posted Sep 15th, 2022

Intramuscular stimulation - also called IMS - is a form of "dry needling" where a trained physiotherapist places small and sterile acupuncture needles into the muscles of a patients to help release tension by stimulating trigger points in injured or tense muscles. Here, our Stittsville physiotherapists explain when IMS may be the right treatment for you.

When our muscles become injured, they can seize up and hold tension in their tissues, reducing your mobility and the range of motion in your body in the aftermath.

Our Stittsville physical therapists refer to these places where your muscles hold tension as "trigger points." We can help to manually release this tension using needling techniques such as IMS.

What is a trigger point?

Myofascial trigger points are very sensitive areas in the tightened bands of muscles or in a muscle's fascia layer. If any pressure is applied to a trigger point, it will often be quite painful and this pain may radiate into other areas of the body. 

The spasms and muscular tightness will cause irritation and compression of the nerves. When irritated, the central nerves cause a protective spasm of all muscles to which they are connected. If an athlete develops a trigger point, they may notice a significant performance decrease ad their mobility and strength are impacted. 

A common trigger point that causes headaches is found in the Upper Trapezius muscle.

How does IMS work?

IMS involves the placement of acupuncture needles - which are small, very thin, and sterile - into specific trigger points in your muscles to help release tension that has built up. This can help to restore mobility, alleviate pain and may help you to avoid future injury to tense muscles. On top of all of this, if you are still recovering from an injury that caused a trigger point to develop, this treatment may aid in your recovery.

When receiving IMS treatment from a physiotherapist, patients will generally feel a deep aching (like a cramp) or a twitching sensation in the tightened band of muscle tissue being treated. Once your physical therapist has determined that they have sufficiently stimulated your injured muscles, they will remove the needle a move on to the next trigger point.

How long does it take to recover from IMS?

While IMS isn't necessarily something that requires "recovery," the treatment works best when a patient keeps in mind that there may be some impacts to how you feel in the aftermath of IMS. Many patients report that they feel lethargy, weakness and a continuous ache in the muscles that they had treated with IMS for up to 36 hours after their treatment.

During this time, your muscles will be responding to treatment, relaxing and recovering. 

It's important to take some steps to help with this relaxing and recovery process after IMS treatment. Some of the things we will often advise our patients to do after receiving include staying active (in moderation), applying heat packs to the aching and affected muscles, and hydrating well.

When is IMS treatment right for me?

Intramuscular stimulation treatment is often recommended for the following health issues:

  • Injuries like tennis elbow or plantar fasciitis
  • Neuropathic pain
  • If active physiotherapy worsens your pain
  • If treatments such as manual therapy aren't effective in alleviating pain
  • Persistent or chronic pain

Are you experiencing stiffness, pain or loss of mobility in your muscles?

Our physiothrapists can use IMS to help alleviate these symptoms.

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