Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is a total system for the diagnosis and treatment of myofascial pain. IMS is grounded in Western Medical Science, and has a solid foundation in its radiculopathic model of pain. It was developed by Dr. Gunn while he was a physician at the Worker’s Compensation Board of British Columbia in the 70’s, where he investigated the large number of mysteriously stubborn cases after frustration with the ineffective modalities at his disposal. The treatment, which utilizes acupuncture needles because they are the thinnest implements available that are designed to penetrate deep within muscle tissue, specifically targets injured muscles that have contracted and become shortened from distress.
IMS relies heavily on a thorough physical examination of the patient by a competent practitioner, trained to recognize the physical signs of neuropathic pain. This physical examination is indispensable since chronic pain is often neurological as opposed to structural, and therefore, not visible on any sources of imaging.
The treatment involves dry needling of affected areas of the body without injecting any substance. The needle sites can be at the epicenter of taut, tender muscle bands, or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated and supersensitive. Penetration of a normal muscle is painless; however, a shortened, supersensitive muscle will ‘grasp’ the needle in what can be described as a cramping sensation. The result is threefold. One, a stretch receptor in the muscle is stimulated, producing a reflex relaxation (lengthening). Two, the needle also causes a small injury that draws blood to the area, initiating the natural healing process. Three, the treatment creates an electrical potential in the muscle to make the nerve function normally again.
The goal of treatment is to release muscle shortening, which presses on and irritates the nerve. Supersensitive areas can be desensitized, and the persistent pull of shortened muscles can be released. IMS is very effective for releasing shortened muscles under contracture, thereby causing mechanical pain from muscle pull. IMS, in effect, treats the underlying neuropathic condition that causes the pain. When competently performed, IMS has a remarkable success rate, as proven by the amelioration of symptoms and signs, even for chronic back pain with root signs.
IMS is comparable in some ways to acupuncture; however, there are a number of important differences. IMS requires a medical examination and diagnosis by a practitioner knowledgeable in anatomy, needles insertions are indicated by physical signs and not according to predefined, non-scientific meridians, while subjective and objective effects are usually experienced immediately.