Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS): What is it and how can it help get rid of your chronic pain?

In this article I am going to focus on the treatment of chronic muscle and nerve pain and why it can be so difficult to find a solution for this type of pain. It is estimated that over one third of the adult population in North America suffers from chronic pain. That is a staggering statistic! This means that 1 of out of every third person out on the street is dealing with ongoing daily pain. Research shows that suicide is nine times more prevalent in people with chronic pain than with depression and it is estimated that in the United States, chronic pain affects more people than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined.

So is chronic muscle and nerve pain so common? To understand this question we have to look at the gradual process that happens to all of our bodies to some degree over many years. As harsh as it sounds, the reality is that as we age our bodies are slowly ‘rotting’. By the time we reach our 50’s and 60’s we will all get some amount of arthritis in our spine. How fast we ‘rot‘ depends on a variety of factors including our overall fitness levels, nutrition, the types of jobs we do, family genetics and any traumatic injuries we sustain along the way ie. motor vehicle accidents. As the arthritis in the spine progresses, the nerves that exit the small spaces between each spinal bone (vertebrae) start to become irritated. In response to this irritation, the muscles that these nerves supply then start to form tight bands. These bands are the ‘knots’ you feel when you rub sore muscles. The muscle bands not only cause pain but they also begin to pull at joints and tendons as well as compress the already sensitive nerves at the spine. These tight bands often do not respond to traditional treatment approaches such as stretching, massage and spinal manipulation.

A form of treatment that has been gaining popularity in the last 5 to 10 years for chronic muscle and nerve pain is Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). This treatment technique was developed by a Doctor in Vancouver by the name of Dr. Chan Gunn. Dr. Gunn developed this technique while working with people who were injured on the job and whose pain was not going away with traditional treatment approaches. What he found in these patients was that by stimulating their tight muscles with an acupuncture needle, the pain very often significantly improved or in many cases disappeared.

So the key to addressing this chronic pain process is to release the muscle tension. In an IMS treatment, when the needle enters the taut band the muscle will ‘grab’ the needle and a deep, cramping sensation is felt. Once the muscle grabs it then typically will ‘reset’ itself and begin to relax. When the tight muscle relaxes, a decrease in pain should follow. IMS is now being recognized and used by physiotherapists and doctors around the world to treat chronic pain of musculoskeletal origin. If you are suffering from ongoing muscle or nerve pain and haven’t had success with traditional types of treatment, IMS may be worth trying. For more information about IMS visit:www.istop.org

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1468 St. Paul Street, Kelowna, BC
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Phone: 778-699-2006
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Nerve Pain and IMS

Intramuscular Stimulation, or IMS for short, is a technique used by physiotherapists since it was developed in the 1970’s in Vancouver by the pain specialist Dr. Chan Gunn. IMS is a total system for the assessment and treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain that has a neuropathic cause. It is grounded in western medical science and there is a growing body of evidence to support its efficacy.

Neuropathy refers to when a nerve is not functioning properly once it has exited the spinal cord. Often this occurs without any structural damage to the nerve meaning that x-rays and scans may look normal. Some indicators of neuropathy are pain in the absence of tissue damage, delayed onset of pain after an injury (e.g. in whiplash), and pain that gets worse after doing more activity. There are other specific physical signs that suggest there may be a neuropathic cause to a persons pain too. These signs will be picked up during the assessment and will indicate whether that person is a candidate for IMS treatment.

When nerve conduction is reduced in neuropathy, one of the main results is that the muscles that are supplied by that nerve become tight and shortened. This in itself can cause pain and supersensitivity of the muscle so even light touch to that area can feel very tender. The shortened muscle will also create more stress on the adjoining tendons and joints which can create problems in these structures causing further pain. Some common conditions in which an underlying neuropathy can be a factor are whiplash, chronic low back or neck pain, headaches, tendinitis, shoulder pain, and groin pain.

IMS involves the use of very thin needles which are inserted into the muscles that have been affected by neuropathy. This creates a ‘grasp’ or cramp sensation which causes the muscle to release, which in turn takes the tension off the surrounding structures. In this way supersensitive muscles can be desensitized and the persistent pull of short muscles can be released. When performed well IMS has a remarkable success rate, reducing symptoms in even long term chronic conditions that may have been present for months or even years, giving long lasting and often permanent results.

Cervical Radiculopathy

Ever had pain radiating from your neck to your shoulder and down your arm? Perhaps losing strength in your arm or a feeling of numbness or tingling in the fingers? Chances are that you have irritated a nerve in your neck and that nerve is sending these painful or distressing symptoms down your arm.

The neck, or cervical spine, is comprised of the top seven vertebrae of the spine. These vertebrae form a solid yet fluid structure – solid to encase the spinal cord which runs down the centre of the spine, and fluid as the vertebrae move on each other as the neck bends and rotates. In between each vertebrae there is a opening called the intervertebral foramen, and it is here where the nerves that branch off the spinal cord exit the spine. These are called the nerve roots and the ones from the lower half of the cervical spine combine to form a group of nerves that travel into the arm, giving us sensation and muscle power.

Each nerve will follow a specific pathway from the neck to the arm, and nerves like to have space to slide and glide along that pathway. If at any point the nerve is compressed or pinched, then the nerve signal can be affected and as a result we can experience some of the symptoms mentioned above – pain, altered sensation, or reduced power in the arm.

There are certain areas where the nerve is more likely to become pinched in the neck. The intervertebral foramen that it travels through to exit the spine is the first. Anything that encroaches on the foramen such as a disc bulge or a bone spur can reduce the space available for the nerve causing compression. Then once it is through the foramen, the nerve travels between some tightly packed muscles in the neck so any increase in tension in these muscles can also cause compression of the nerve as it moves through this area.

If these symptoms ring a bell with you, a physiotherapist can perform a series of tests that will determine exactly which nerve is irritated and exactly where it is getting pinched. The location of your symptoms or the specific muscles that have lost power will help to determine the area of your neck that needs to be treated. There are several treatment options to resolve your symptoms, and which treatment will be most effective for you will depend on the findings from the assessment. Some common techniques used to treat cervical radiculopathy are manual therapy to create more space for the nerve, traction to take the pressure off the nerve, and acupuncture to stimulate the nerve in order to fully restore the nerve signal. Once there is no compression on the nerve and any inflammation around it has settled, then your arm symptoms should subside and full function should be restored.