This article is presented by West 4th Physiotherapy associates Marj Belot and Stuart Anderson. They discuss the appropriate uses and differences between these alternative needling techniques.
Both IMS (intramuscular stimulation) and acupuncture use acupuncture needles to reduce muscle tension and relieve pain. Acupuncture needles are very fine, flexible, solid steel needles with a very sharp tip that allows them to be inserted with minimal to no pain. The differences are in how and where the needles are inserted. Acupuncture is traditionally based on concepts of flow of energy (Qi) and blood in various highways throughout the body, called meridians. In traditional acupuncture the belief is that disruptions to the flow of Qi or blood can cause or be caused by injury or illness. Needles are inserted at specific acupuncture points along the meridians in order to restore balance to the body and promote healing. The needles may also be twisted or tapped to increase the stimulation. In Western or anatomical acupuncture the therapist typically uses fewer needles and they select the points based on the anatomy related to that point. The points are the same but the philosophy of where to insert the needles differs. My training is primarily in anatomical acupuncture. As an example, when choosing points I consider whether I want to insert directly in to a muscle for relaxation or pain or whether it would be better to insert in to the nerve that supplies that muscle or go even more indirectly and apply the needle to a point near or at the spine which relates to the embryological origins and nerve supply of the muscle. In IMS the therapist inserts the needle in to taut bands or trigger points within the muscle(s) to release it and relieve pain associated with muscle tension. The therapist feels for the taut bands and targets their treatment at the muscles most likely to be causing or contributing to symptoms. At West 4th Physiotherapy many of physiotherapists are trained to incorporate acupuncture and/or IMS within our treatments, which also typically include education, manual therapy and exercise prescription. Our website lists the qualifications of each of our practitioners. Feel free to phone or email if you have additional questions. In Part II, we will discuss different types of IMS.