When addressing persistent aches and pains, you may have encountered two distinct therapies: acupuncture and intramuscular stimulation (IMS). Both methods aim to alleviate pain and enhance overall well-being by targeting specific points within your muscle tissue. The question that often arises is: which treatment modality is right for you?

Both practices have their merits and fans, but choosing the right therapy for your needs requires understanding the differences and similarities between the two. 

Understanding Acupuncture vs. IMS

Acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) are two popular methods used in pain management and rehabilitation. While they share some similarities, they also have significant differences in their approaches and philosophies.


Acupuncture is a key component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been practiced for thousands of years. It involves inserting thin, sterile needles into specific points on your body, known as acupuncture points. These points are located along a network of channels called Chinese meridians, which is believed to conduct vital energy or “qi” throughout your body. The main goal of acupuncture is to restore the balance of qi, and it’s often used to treat various ailments from chronic pain to stress-related disorders.

When it comes to acupuncture, the practitioner typically uses a gentle technique to insert acupuncture needles into the skin with minimal discomfort. The needles are then stimulated by manipulating them, either manually or by connecting them to a mild electrical current. This stimulation helps to encourage the flow of qi and promote healing in affected areas.

Intramuscular Stimulation

On the other hand, IMS is a modern therapeutic technique that was developed by Dr. Chan Gunn. It also involves inserting thin needles into your muscles, but the focus is on releasing tight muscle bands and relieving nerve irritation. IMS is rooted in Western medicine and is based on neurophysiology concepts. This method is particularly effective for treating chronic pain, muscle tightness, and neuropathic conditions.

IMS involves a slightly different approach. The practitioner identifies tight muscle bands and tender areas in your muscles called trigger points. They then insert a needle directly into the taut band, aiming to elicit a muscle twitch response. This reaction helps release the muscle tension, reduce pain, and improve the function of the treated area.

RELATED READING: What is IMS? Definition, Uses, and Treatment Options

The Procedural Differences

In comparing acupuncture and intramuscular stimulation (IMS) or dry needling, you’ll find that the procedures have some similarities and differences. Let’s explore those differences so you can better understand both treatment options.

When it comes to the tools used, both acupuncture and IMS involve the use of needles. However, the needles for acupuncture are typically shorter and more flexible, while the ones used in IMS are slightly longer and firmer. This can result in slightly different sensations during treatment.

When it comes to techniques, acupuncture utilizes different manipulation styles, ranging from gentle tapping and sliding to twisting and flicking the needle. Acupuncture points are selected based on meridian lines and TCM principles, and needles can be inserted at various depths. With IMS, needles are inserted directly into the tight, shortened muscles, or trigger points to stimulate a healing response. The needle manipulation in IMS tends to be more localized and targeted compared to acupuncture.

The duration of the treatment sessions can also vary. Acupuncture treatments are generally longer-lasting, with the needles remaining in place for about 20 to 40 minutes. On the other hand, IMS sessions tend to be shorter, usually lasting around 10 to 20 minutes, with needles being removed once they’ve sufficiently stimulated the targeted muscles.

Pain Treatment and Management

When you’re dealing with pain, whether it’s chronic or acute, it’s essential to find effective treatments and management strategies to alleviate discomfort. Pain may come in various forms, such as neuropathic, musculoskeletal, and myofascial. Additionally, it may manifest as low back pain, neck pain, nerve pain, or even headaches.

Acupuncture has long been used as a method for treating a variety of pain-related issues, including chronic pain, muscle soreness and tension headaches.

On the other hand, Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is a more modern approach and focusses on targeting the root cause of nerve pain. 

Here are some of the benefits of each pain treatment method:

  • Acupuncture benefits
    • Alleviating chronic pain
    • Reducing muscle tension
    • Improving headache symptoms
    • Minimizing neck and low back pain
  • IMS benefits
    • Targeting muscle knots and trigger points
    • Addressing neuropathic pain
    • Improving range of motion
    • Reducing muscle soreness

Both acupuncture and IMS have their merits when it comes to pain treatment and management. Acupuncture is often recognized for its effectiveness in relieving chronic musculoskeletal and myofascial pain. In contrast, IMS is better suited to targeting neuropathic pain and improving muscle function directly.

Role of Physiotherapists and Acupuncturists

When you’re considering treatment options for pain or injury, you might come across both physiotherapists and acupuncturists. Understanding their roles and the treatments they provide can help you decide which might be a better fit for your needs.

Both physiotherapists and acupuncturists are skilled at identifying the potential root causes of your pain or symptoms, making sure to consider all aspects of your health during their assessment. They will each develop a comprehensive treatment plan that may include a combination of therapies, depending on your specific needs. These professionals will monitor your progress throughout the course of treatment, making adjustments as necessary to ensure that you’re on the path to recovery.

In some cases, your needs may be best served by a combination of physiotherapy and acupuncture. If this is the case, your physiotherapist and acupuncturist may collaborate on your treatment to ensure the most effective approach. 

Acupuncture and IMS in Langford and Victoria BC

Ultimately, choosing between physiotherapy and acupuncture (or a combination of the two) will depend on your individual needs, preferences, and goals for treatment. Parkway Physiotherapy and Performance Centre provides both services to patients across Langford, Sooke and Victoria BC.




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