By Rob Foley – Physiotherapist
What is IMS?
Intramuscular stimulation, or IMS, is a comprehensive system for the diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain. The treatment technique is performed exclusively by physicians and physiotherapists. The approach was pioneered by Dr. C Chan Gunn, a clinical professor and Honorary Peterhouse Cambridge Fellow with over 35 years of hands-on experience dealing with chronic pain. Many experts who treat chronic pain now support his “radiculopathic” model.
Simply put, this is the pain that arises due to dysfunction in the nervous system. Healthy muscles and nerves require feedback or communication with the central nervous system. When a nerve is compressed the nerve and its target organ become supersensitive. The “disuse super sensitivity” results in abnormal function of the nerve, and target organ. For example, a normally painless sensation of light touch may be interpreted as painful and be associated with muscle spasm. The area sensitive to stimulation (the motor point) is significantly enlarged. Hence the muscle is more tender to touch. Another consequence of disuse super sensitivity is shortening of muscles.
In addition to tenderness a radiculopathy will cause muscle shortening, one of the key findings of chronic pain.
Muscle shortening will increase tissue tension and may contribute to conditions such as tennis elbow. Muscle shortening also increases joint compression and affects joint alignment, two of the most common causes of joint irritation. Perhaps most importantly, shortening of the muscles in the back and the neck contributes to abnormal joint forces that accelerate the rate of degenerative changes.
The techniques used in IMS are borrowed from traditional Chinese acupuncture but incorporate up-to-date scientific principles and neurophysiology. IMS treatment makes use of very fine gauge (acupuncture) needles. When a needle penetrates a super sensitive and shortened muscle is will “grasp” the needle and cause a characteristic, deep cramping sensation.
The goal of treatment is to release the shortened painful muscles, relieve tension and reduce referred pain and sensitivity. While you should notice improvement with every treatment it may require a number of sessions to bring your symptoms under control. Once this is achieved specific exercises may be prescribed as part of a maintenance program.