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Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) Vs.Traditional Acupuncture

A question that we are often asked is what is the difference between IMS and traditional acupuncture?  The tools involved, acupuncture needles, are the same, however the technique and goals of treatment differ.  Before getting into the differences between the two, I must describe an additional technique called "dry needling".  Dry needling is primarily directed at trigger points, which are identified as tender palpable points within the muscle.  Dry needling involves insertion of an acupuncture needle into these trigger points to release the tightness in the muscle. Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) differs from dry needling in that IMS is a total system for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain of a neuropathic origin. Neuropathic pain occurs when nerves malfunction following injury or tissue irritation. Nerve endings become overly sensitive and begin to interpret normal sensations as pain.  IMS relies heavily on a thorough physical examination by a certified practitioner trained to recognize the physical signs of neuropathic pain. The treatment involves dry needling of affected areas of the body, which can be muscles in the periphery (such as in the legs or arms), or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated. Only one needle is inserted at a time and stays in for only a few seconds; multiple muscles may be treated in one session. This type of needling creates some muscle soreness during treatment and may last for a few hours to a day or two.  This temporary discomfort is followed by significant muscle relaxation, improved mobility and reduction of pain.
Like IMS, traditional acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles; however the technique and purpose are very different from each other. Traditional acupuncture is very gentle with only mild discomfort association with insertion of the needles.  Selection of treatment areas are based on the principles of Chinese meridians (channels of energy flow in the body). In traditional acupuncture the needles are typically left in for 15-20 minutes or longer and the purpose is to stimulate the body's release of  natural painkillers (endorphins) and anti-inflammatories.  Traditional acupuncture produces effects in areas of the body other than just the area of needling.  


To learn more about IMS visit /IMS.htm, /FAQ.htm or

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Steph DaSilva
October 16, 2018
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Lisa Streib
November 30, 2014
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