Physio: Dealing with pain through acupuncture vs intramuscular stimulation

Statistically it is very likely that you, or someone you know, is putting up with some sort of long-term pain.

Statistically it is very likely that you, or someone you know, is putting up with some sort of long-term pain. In fact, based on recent studies on chronic pain in Canada almost one of every four adults in Canada suffer from chronic pain.

So what can be done for treatment?

Medications definitely play a large part in managing chronic pain but many people want other options outside of popping pills.

Today, I am going to talk about two different types of treatments that use an acupuncture needle to help decrease pain.

One option available for the treatment of chronic pain is acupuncture.

Acupuncture was developed over 2000 years ago in China and involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body in order to create a response that promotes healing of disease and injury.

There are almost 1,000 different acupuncture points that can be used on the human body, with almost all of these matching up with specific nerves.

Stimulation of nerves causes the body to release natural painkillers (endorphins) and anti-inflammatories and settles down ‘angry’ nerves that cause a lot of the pain in our body.

Another type of needling is a much newer form of treatment for chronic muscle and nerve pain called IMS—intramuscular stimulation.

IMS was actually developed in the early 1970s but has been gaining national and international attention in the past 10 years as more physiotherapists use the technique on their patients.

The person responsible for developing this technique is a western trained 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 who were suffering from chronic muscle and nerve pain.

Although both traditional acupuncture and IMS use the same type of acupuncture needle, the technique and purpose are very different from each other.

In traditional acupuncture the needles are typically left in for 15 to 20 minutes or longer. There usually is only mild discomfort associated with the insertion of the needles and very few side effects.

Overall the treatment is very gentle. In my experience traditional acupuncture can be especially effective when dealing with high levels of acute ‘flare ups’ of pain.

Although slow in its acceptance in North America, acupuncture is now recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “vitally important part of medicine.”

Conversely, when using IMS only one needle is inserted at a time and the goal is to insert the needle directly into a taut muscle band that is causing the pain.

The needle only stays in for a few seconds and multiple muscles are stimulated in this fashion.

IMS is a more aggressive technique and creates more soreness during treatment as well as after treatment (typically lasting between a few hours to a day).

However, IMS has the ability to permanently loosen tight muscles and take the pressure off nerves that can often be the cause of chronic pain.

It is in my experience that IMS can be very effective in giving lasting relief for chronic muscle and nerve pain.

Acupuncture and IMS can both be very effective treatment options for musculoskeletal pain. Although similar in the sense of what is used (acupuncture needle) they vary greatly in what they are effective in treating and what kind of experience it is for the patient during treatment.

Remember that 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.

If you or someone you know is suffering from long-term pain you may want to consider looking further into these treatment options.

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 Acupuncture and Gunn IMS practitioner.


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