IMS: Intramuscular Stimulation

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) is a form of needling used to treat peripheral nerve pain and altered muscle function. IMS can be very helpful in releasing tight muscles or helping to get more activation from a muscle.

IMS was developed by Dr. Chan Gunn, the president of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of pain in Vancouver, British Columbia. He discovered the benefits of needling while researching a group of people with back pain who were not getting better in the expected time frame.

IMS involves a registered therapist using a thin and flexible needle to stimulate a tightened muscle. The location of needling depends on the symptoms and signs found during the assessment. It is often done close to the spine, in the muscle surrounding the nerve roots that exit from the spine, and at a distance from the spine, where the peripheral nerves connect to the muscle.

One way muscle dysfunction can occur is when the flow of signal down a nerve is interrupted or reduced. This can happen when there is pressure on a nerve or when it is stretched or tractioned. Receptors in the muscle then change how they function and this can lead to an increase in the contraction of the muscle at rest. This will be felt as a tight section of muscle, or pain on a joint from the pull of a muscle.

How does the needle help? Inserting a needle into a muscle creates an electrical change that can be felt like a twitch in the muscle. This spontaneous electrical activity can reset the nerve and muscle back to the resting state. There is also a chemical change in the muscle from a micro amount of bleeding that releases growth factors that help stimulate the production of collagen and protein, necessary components of healing.

Needling techniques are not for everyone. Some people have a phobia of needles, which can increase the stress and make needling more painful. There are some contraindications to IMS, like if you have a bleeding disorder or if you are pregnant. Speak to a registered clinician who has completed training in IMS to see if it would be helpful for you.


Lori Anne Donald completed the Chan Gunn Intramuscular Stimulation certification process through the University of British Columbia.