What is the difference between IMS treatment and acupuncture?


IMS Treatment

Is needling right for you? Does it even work?


You’ll find more therapists than ever offering acupuncture and IMS (intramuscular stimulation) as part of their treatments, but how do you know if needling is the right treatment for you? How do you choose between acupuncture or IMS?


Our patient, Joan T, a registered nurse in her mid-50s came into the clinic because she felt increasingly tired. The fatigue was affecting her focus at work and she wanted to improve her health. She heard about our wellness program through her work and decided to check it out. Joan experienced pain in her right arm and lower back, so she elected to try IMS along with acupuncture treatments.


Within a couple of weeks, she began to feel better and continued with the program for four months. During this time, her back pain got better and she found her attention at work improved. We are happy to report that Joan was able to get back on her feet with our help.


Joan chose to try a combination of IMS and acupuncture. But how do they compare as treatment modalities?


What is IMS treatment?


IMS Treatment

IMS (intramuscular stimulation) or dry needling is when a physiotherapist inserts a tiny needle directly into a muscle.


Physiotherapists who have been trained in IMS can use it to:

  • Decrease pain

  • Decrease depression and anxiety

  • Improve recovery time

  • Improve mobility


What is acupuncture?



Acupuncture comes from traditional Chinese medicine which focuses on improving the Qi (Chee) energy in your body.


The physical therapist inserts tiny acupuncture needles into specific points along “meridian” paths of the body. These meridians are lines which are theoretical pathways of Qi energy in your body.


A physiotherapist can use acupuncture to treat a variety of different conditions and situations. The situation and reason for the treatment may change, so after a few sessions, your physiotherapist in consultation with you, may suggest a different treatment method in addition or in place of acupuncture. The fact is, that If you're having issues with your foot, back, neck, hand or fingers, acupuncture can help with these and more! With several options, each having the potential to improve your health issues, the best thing is to discuss what the best long-term treatment for your problem is with your physiotherapist. Together, you can then make an informed decision on how you want to improve your health.


How are IMS and acupuncture different?


In IMS, the needles are always inserted directly into the muscle.


The muscles are needled based on what is “sore” or “tight” in your body, and also which nerves supply those muscles.


Acupuncture needles are directly inserted into specific points of the body in order to address certain conditions. The points are called acupoints.


Acupoints are positioned where the body contains a high amount of acupuncture energy. By inserting the needles into the acupoints, the practitioner is able to increase the energy in that area. As the body processes this new energy, it will naturally function in a more optimal fashion.


How does needling work?


IMS Treatment

IMS needling


When a needle is inserted into a tight muscle it makes the muscle relax. This then improves your ability to move!


IMS increases blood flow to the body's extremities, which makes it an ideal solution for people with poor circulation. If you have cold hands and feet for example, or have trouble standing up after sitting for a long time, or experience nighttime leg cramps, IMS (intermittent movement stimulation) might be right for you!


Both of these mechanisms - muscle relaxation and increased circulation, also help to decrease your PAIN.


IMS is supported by scientific research proven to be effective to decrease pain, decrease muscle tension and to rehab an injury.


In some cases, it can also be used to prevent injury and improve your athletic performance!


Acupuncture needling


During an acupuncture treatment, your qualified practitioner inserts a thin needle in your skin at various points. The acupuncturist will then stimulate these points with an electric current to help bring your body back into balance. The needle actually directs the electric current to the appropriate point in your body.


Research, however, indicates there is also a benefit to using acupuncture in combination with massage therapy treatment.


Possible effects of acupuncture include:

  • Pain relief

  • Improved circulation

  • Mental illness calming

  • Relief from stress and anxiety

  • Better quality sleep


Are IMS and acupuncture safe?


Your physiotherapist must be trained and certified in IMS or acupuncture in order to provide needling treatment.


If they are planning to needle near vital organs or vulnerable structures, they will tell you and make sure they have your consent before putting any needles in.


How does a physio take precautions when doing IMS or acupuncture?


A physiotherapist carefully assesses each patient that presents at the clinic or hospital they are working in. If they believe there is a problem that can be solved with IMS or acupuncture, they will proceed to assess the situation regarding a patient's health. Their assessment takes into account the body's normal functions, how well it is working, and how the body is reacting to stress.


Only once that is completed, will they set out to treat, rehabilitate, maintain or improve your body's functions with appropriate treatments. The physiotherapist may have to do manipulation on the body, for example, using some gentle massage, some acupuncture, or some IMS. Don't worry. A physio is gentle and aware of the response of your body as they perform manipulations on your body.


Are there risks?


A risk of IMS and Acupuncture is that in some cases, you might not get any benefits and you might even experience side effects. In rare instances acupuncture can be dangerous and require recovery from the side effects. This could be true for IMS as well. It is always a good idea to consult with a licensed and trained professional healthcare provider before making any decisions.


Does needling hurt?



IMS can cause a dull aching or cramping sensation when the needle is inserted into the muscle. This is normal. And actually, it is a desired response of the muscle.


Needles are usually removed immediately after stimulating the muscle. Sometimes there is immediate relief and other times it may take several treatments to achieve your desired results.


During an IMS/Acupuncture treatment, a patient usually experiences a reduction in pain. Because the needles used during an IMS/Acupuncture treatment are so thin, a patient may not even feel the needles at all. In fact, patients have been known to easily fall asleep due to the treatment’s relaxation effect. After a session, a patient may experience a reduction in pain as we;; as an increased sense of well-being.


Due to the holistic nature of the treatment, a patient's overall health may be improved in the long run.


So, what should I choose, IMS or acupuncture?


Both IMS and acupuncture are needling techniques, yet applied in very different ways with different goals. Your best choice is to talk to a reputable, licensed physiotherapist trained to assess your needs and to select a treatment plan.


If you’re experiencing pain or stress, call us directly at 250-897-0069 or BOOK ONLINE. Alternatively, please use the CONTACT US page to request help with services or booking. We are here to help you.