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New treatment for muscle and nerve pain

Weekly health column from Sun City Physiotherapy.

Many of us deal with chronic pain on a daily basis. Sometimes the pain is from joint pain such as in arthritis, but many times it is pain from chronically tight muscles. Unfortunately there are no scans (Xrays, MRI, CT) that when a muscle is the cause of our pain. This is why people who have chronic muscle and nerve pain often go through many different tests with long waits in between and are left in the end without any answers.
A relatively new form of treatment for chronic muscle and nerve pain is IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation). IMS was actually developed in 1973 but has been gaining national and international attention in the past 10 years as more physiotherapists and Doctors use the technique on their patients. IMS was developed by a medical 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. What he found in these patients was that by stimulating their tight muscles with an acupuncture needle, the pain very often was significantly reduced.
Although the needle that is used is exactly the same in IMS as it is with acupuncture there are major differences between the two techniques. In traditional acupuncture the needles are typically left in for 15 to 20 minutes. With IMS only one needle at a time is used and the needle is not left in but rather inserted into the muscle for approximately 5 seconds or so and then removed. Multiple muscles are stimulated in this fashion. Between 5 and 20 points are typically done depending on how many tight muscle bands are present. IMS is more sore when getting done than acupuncture and will create more post treatment soreness (typically lasting between a few hours to a day). However, IMS has the ability to permanently loosen tight muscles that often are the cause of chronic pain. In both acupuncture and IMS the needles have no medication on them. It is purely your body’s reaction to a needle that creates healing. 
In an IMS treatment, when the needle enters the taut band the muscle will ‘grab’ the needle and a deep, cramping sensation is felt. You typically do not feel the actual needle itself. Once the muscle grabs it then releases and is left in a more loosened state. This loosening helps to decrease muscle pain and relieve compression on important nerves (like the one that causes ‘sciatica’) in our body. It is the loosening of these muscles that leads to decreased pain. IMS is now being recognized and used by physiotherapists and doctors around the world to treat chronic pain of musculoskeletal origin. If you suffer from pain on a consistent basis and feel tightness in your muscles that you just can’t seem to release through stretching, IMS may be a good option for you.

Graham Gillies is a registered Physiotherapist at Sun City Physiotherapy Winfield and is a fellow of the Canadian Academy of Manipulative Therapy and a certified Gunn IMS practitioner. He can be contacted at the Winfield location (250-766-2544) or by email at For more information about IMS visit: