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What is IMS/Dry Needling?

IMS stands for intramuscular stimulation and is an anatomy specific form of acupuncture performed by specially trained physiotherapists and some doctors. IMS, compared to acupuncture, is a much more active process by the practitioner and requires a greater knowledge of anatomy, muscle balancing and biomechanics to release the right areas and restore optimal movement. 

The ability to perform IMS gives a practitioner a powerful tool to help eliminate chronic pain issues, but it is the physiotherapist’s ability to assess and release things in the right order and start to reintegrate proper movement patterns in the client that make the real difference.

How Does IMS work?

Nerves are the electrical wiring to muscles.  Muscles are a stringy, elastic tissue strung between two bones by tendons.  In a normal resting state, the nerve supplies a steady signal to the muscle to create a normal resting tone in the muscle; it is not overly contracted or totally flaccid.  When the nerve is irritated it sends an altered signal to the muscle making the muscle hyper-reactive and the result is usually bands of tension and muscle knots that are sore to the touch.  These taut muscle bands don’t allow the muscle to function properly and put way more stress on the tendons and joints when used.  If you stick a fine needle into a muscle in its normal healthy state, not much happens and the client doesn’t feel much, but if you stick a needle into a hypersensitive taut band the muscle will reflexively contract strongly or even twitch; this feels like a deep, crampy achy pressure to the client.

Why do you want to make a tight, sore muscle contract more?

When the muscle contracts strongly it stretches the tendons on either end that attach it to the bone.  Your tendons have little stretch receptors embedded in them called golgi tendon organs (GTO), their job is to sense stretch and protect the muscle from contracting too strongly. When they get triggered they reflexively send a signal to your spinal cord that immediately comes back saying relax, relax, relax to the muscle.  IMS effectively takes advantage of your body’s own protective feedback loops and tricks your nervous system into dampening down the tone in specific muscle groups.

People develop a love/hate relationship with it because the crampy, achy feeling can be unpleasant, but it can literally produce immediate and lasting relief from pain.