Acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) are beneficial therapies used by practitioners to treat a wide range of conditions. On the surface, the technique and applications of acupuncture and IMS have many similarities, so it is easy to understand why many people confuse them!
As physiotherapists who are skilled in both acupuncture and IMS treatment, we can help explain the differences between these two therapies so you can better understand which treatment might be right for you!
Is acupuncture the same as IMS (intramuscular stimulation)?
Acupuncture and IMS share many similarities, but they are very different treatments. Although both fall under the umbrella term of dry needling — the practice of needling without injecting any substance — the techniques and purpose of each treatment vary.
Many people are familiar with acupuncture, which involves strategically inserting very thin needles at specific points throughout the body. Acupuncture is a widely accepted method for treating pain and injuries, but it is also used to treat a variety of conditions ranging from respiratory disorders to stomach and bowel problems. Rooted in Traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is meant to correct imbalances and regulate the flow of energy throughout the body.
Intramuscular stimulation (IMS) is also a technique that involves thin needles being inserted into the skin. However, unlike acupuncture, needles used in an IMS treatment are placed directly into the knots or trigger points in the muscle with the purpose of reducing muscle tightness. By needling the muscle’s trigger points, IMS therapy reduces the irritability of the nerve supplying the muscle, resulting in the release of muscle tension and pain. Ultimately it is the irritated nerve which causes the muscle tightness and therefore the problematic nerve needs to be addressed. IMS treats the irritated nerve, which results in the reduction of muscle tension. IMS can also be referred to as trigger point dry needling as the needles are inserted directly into the trigger points.
If you would like to know more about the benefits of Acupuncture or Intramuscular Stimulation, reach out to our team today and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Differences Between IMS & Acupuncture
Here are some key differences between acupuncture and intramuscular stimulation:
1. Size of the needle
Needles usually used for IMS are 0.3mm (or about the size of a thick moustache hair) whereas the needles used for acupuncture may be slightly thinner (0.25mm).
Needles used in acupuncture are gently inserted into very specific areas throughout the body and are often left in place for a period of time.
In IMS, needles are inserted directly into the tight muscles and muscles surrounding the area of the spine where the nerve originates. Needles may be removed right away or left in for a few minutes depending on the practitioner.
Acupuncture is considered a gentle therapy with clients rarely experiencing discomfort.
IMS is slightly more invasive and may cause a tightening or cramping sensation when the needle is inserted in the muscle. Depending on how tight and irritated the muscle is, the sensation caused by IMS can range from feeling almost nothing to feeling like you have a charlie horse. Most reactions fall somewhere in between.
4. Purpose of the treatment
Acupuncture is meant to stimulate blood flow, reduce inflammation and reduce pain and promote overall wellness and balance in the body to optimize healing.
IMS is a more direct treatment that is often used to treat conditions that are a result of irritated nerves (neuropathic pain), which causes chronically tight and shortened muscles.
Want to know if Acupuncture or IMS can help you? Book a consultation today so we can help you feel better — fast!
Acupuncture Vs. IMS: Which is best?
Acupuncture and intramuscular stimulation can both be used to treat a wide range of conditions and even often the same conditions.
Many practitioners will have a preference for which therapy they prefer, but IMS is often useful in situations where an irritated nerve is leading to muscle tightness and pain. Examples of conditions IMS is commonly used for are:
Acupuncture can also be used to treat the pain and discomfort associated with many of the same conditions, but it is also beneficial in treating:
- Smoking addiction
- Stomach and bowel problems
When deciding if acupuncture or IMS is right for you, the most important thing you can do is to first find a knowledgeable practitioner you trust!
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