Book online

IMS and dry needling - similar yet different

Author Details

Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021
IMS procedure taking place on the muscle of an arm

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)

Intramuscular stimulation (IMS), is a whole body system for evaluation and treatment of chronic pain. IMS was first developed by Dr. Chan Gunn in the early 1970’s, when he was working with injured workers who were experiencing chronic pain in British Columbia. As opposed to acute pain, which can last for a moment or a few months, chronic pain is defined as lasting longer than three months and persists after tissues have healed. 

Our brains sometimes develop protective responses and seem to identify danger in normal activities. Dr. Gunn recognized that chronic pain is far more complex than acute pain. To this day, he continues to teach students and collaborate with other professionals in the field of pain research. In 2002, he was awarded the Order of Canada for his work. Since the GunnIMS academic and clinical program is based at the University of British Columbia and requires intensive time and resources, there are fewer IMS practitioners in central and eastern Canada. 

A GunnIMS session will consist of a detailed evaluation. People are asked to describe their pain history and current locations, patterns and descriptions of the pain. Typically, there is more than one area of pain, and words such as ache and burning are commonly used. Movements are then also carefully evaluated. An IMS practitioner will usually look at balance and range of motion in several areas, such as the shoulder and the lower extremity. Skin and nails will be looked at and skin reactions to pressure and touch will be tested.

The assessment component of IMS is very detailed and very important.  The treatment will consist of needle insertions in key muscular points. These are generally not painful, and the number of insertions varies but may be as few as 1-4, especially for a first visit.

Dry Needling

Dry needling (DN), is also commonly referred to as trigger point dry needling (TPDN). Trigger points are hyper taut bands in muscles and have been long identified as a source of acute or chronic pain. This pain is often called "myofascial pain." The pain may be local, right at the muscle, or may be the source of referred pain, which is defined as pain in a different location from the source.

Trigger points can be injected by medical doctors with substances such lidocaine, saline or botox. These injections can be very helpful for some pain sufferers, especially those with migraines. It became evident however, that often it was the needle and its effect that helped the pain, not the injected substance.

dry needling procedure taking place

When using dry needling as a treatment for pain, a solid needle is used with no substance in it. The needle is inserted into the taut band. It may be removed, or the client and practitioner may find better results if it is left in for a few minutes until the muscle relaxes. Sometimes the needle is moved a little.

Dry needling can be extremely effective for acute and chronic trigger points.  Common methods often recommended for general muscle pain and “trigger point release” are massage therapy, heat, ice, rolling and stretching.  However, dry needling can be more effective and provide greater pain relief since the needle can address the source of pain directly. 

How are they similar?

Both IMS and DN use a “dry” needle and are effective treatments for myofascial pain. Both may elicit a local twitch response in the muscle. IMS is a unique, total system to evaluate and treat chronic, neuropathic pain. People interested in GunnIMS should be prepared for a full body evaluation and wear appropriate clothes.

Both IMS and DN provide safe options for patients who are experiencing pain. When looking for help, clients can ask about these techniques and can work with qualified practitioners to determine if either is an appropriate choice. Interested in IMS or dry needling as a potential treatment option? Book an appointment with one of our clinicians.


We can help you move and feel better.
Book an appointment today.

Let's keep in touch!

By subscribing you agree to our privacy policy. You can unsubscribe at any time.

A message to our community

Read more