People often ask me if there is a difference between acupuncture and Intra Muscular Stimulation (IMS). Often the answer depends on who you ask, and where they have received their information from.
What is IMS?
The term IMS began to be used in the latter part of the 20th century, as people began investigating the applications of needling techniques into physiotherapy and other forms of physical and manual therapies.
One of the pioneers of the field was Dr. Janet Travell, her research into myofascial pain syndrome and trigger point therapy is still considered one of the seminal works on the subject.
Another term used for IMS is the term “dry needling”, this refers to the needles being used without any type of injection being put into the body, the needle itself is the only thing entering the body.
Some practitioners of IMS will describe it as different then acupuncture, although I would consider it a different name for a similar process.
What is Acupuncture?
Classic acupuncture used a similar if not identical process and produced similar results, many of the myofascial trigger point are in close proximity or in some cases identical to classic acupuncture points, the acupoint spleen-10 xuehai as an example is identical to a myofascial point of the vastus medialis muscle.
What are the goals of Acupuncture and IMS?
In acupuncture many different effects may be achieved however, to influence hormone levels or to influence the action of an internal organ such as the liver.
Needling trigger points is one part of what can be achieved, so because of this I consider myofascial needling/IMS to be a part or a subset of acupuncture rather than distinctly different from it. Just as the benefits of exercise or massage therapy cannot be applied in isolation to a single muscle, they are therapies that affect the body in multiple ways, the same can also be said for acupuncture and needling therapies.
Both acupuncture and IMS can be helpful for tennis elbow and ankle pain.
Regulations, terms, and licences...
The regulations where you live may influence the answer to this question, although in broad terms what I have said here is the same no matter where you go. In many cases the terminology used may depend on the training the person who is doing the needling has received, what professional license they are practicing with, and what country and province or state you are in.
I am a registered acupuncturist in Alberta, Canada. I have based this post on my own training and conversations with other health professionals in my area, if you live somewhere else you may get a different answer to this question depending who you ask. You can learn more about our acupuncture services here.
If you have questions about IMS or acupuncture, contact the qualified professionals at Human Integrated Performance.