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Dry Needling Vs. IMS

Dry Needling Vs. IMS

Physiotherapy often employs alternative treatment techniques to relieve pain and improve function. Common alternative treatments used in physiotherapy include dry needling and intramuscular stimulation (IMS). Although we offer both treatments at Dynamic Physiotherapy, we will look at dry needling and IMS in detail, including their similarities, differences, and candidacy.

What Is Dry Needling?

Dry needling is an alternative physiotherapy treatment that relieves pain, promotes tissue healing, and restores function. This type of treatment involves the insertion of fine, sterile needles into trigger points or taut bands within muscles. Dry needling relieves muscular issues and treats musculoskeletal pain and conditions resulting from muscular dysfunction.

Although dry needling involves the insertion of needles into trigger points, it differs from acupuncture. This treatment is a therapeutic practice with roots in Western medicine. Furthermore, the technique is "dry" because no medication is used.

What Are The Benefits Of Dry Needling?

Dry needling physiotherapy in Okotoks offers several benefits, including pain relief, improved range of motion, and chronic conditions.

Pain Relief

The primary benefit of dry needling is pain relief. Trigger points form painful knots at several locations in the body, especially in the back and neck. And depending on the duration, the pain could be acute or chronic. Physiotherapists use dry needling to relax knots and improve blood flow to the area. Improved blood circulation supplies newly oxygenated blood to the site and carries painful waste away, speeding up healing.

Improved Range Of Motion

Knots in different body parts cause pain and may restrict movement, hindering your daily activities. Unfortunately, with reduced movement, muscles lose mass and become weak. Your physiotherapist will insert needles into the knots to relieve them. You will also undergo a rehabilitation program with focused exercises at Dynamic Physiotherapy to rebuild muscle strength and prevent a recurrence.

Improved Chronic Conditions

Chronic conditions like fibromyalgia and myofascial syndrome can benefit from dry needling. These conditions affect the fascia – a sheet of connective tissues surrounding the muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. During the dry needling session, your physiotherapist will insert the needles to stimulate a twitch response that releases the trigger point and helps to manage pain.

What Conditions Does Dry Needling Treat?   

Dry needling is safe and effective for treating several conditions, including;

  • Whiplash
  • Spinal issues
  • Migraine
  • Tendinitis
  • Back or neck pain
  • Myofascial pain
  • Shoulder impingement

What Is Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS)?

Intramuscular stimulation (IMS) also uses needles to stimulate specific muscle and nerve points. Dr. Gunn developed IMS as a modified approach to acupuncture. The treatment increases blood flow and relieves chronic pain in the nerves. The treatment also addresses neuropathic pain and nerve-related dysfunction.

Gunn IMS involves a detailed evaluation of a patient's symptoms, pain history, and location. Your physiotherapist will also monitor your balance and range of motion in several areas before developing a treatment plan.

What Are The Benefits Of IMS?

IMS offers several benefits, including improved muscle and nerve function, pain relief, and providing long-term results.

Pain Relief

Physiotherapists at Dynamic Physiotherapy target dysfunctional nerves to reduce muscle tension and promote tissue healing. Consequently, the body releases chemicals like endorphins that stimulate pain relief. This treatment is especially suitable for people with neuropathic pain and nerve-related dysfunction.

Improved Muscle And Nerve Function

IMS targets the nerves and muscles, releasing tension and trigger points. The treatment also reduces nerve irritations to promote nerve regeneration. Consequently, after an IMS session, you may experience improved sensation and reduced numbness or tingling in the treated areas.

Long-Term Results

IMS is often used in physiotherapy programs, including manual therapy and exercise programs. The treatment plan is tailored to suit your specific condition and symptoms. Consequently, you should experience long-term pain relief from chronic conditions with active treatment and follow-up care.  

What Conditions Do IMS Treat?

IMS is successful in treating several orthopedic and neuromusculoskeletal conditions, including;

  • Achilles tendonitis.
  • Arthritic conditions.
  • Low back pain.
  • Plantar fasciitis.
  • Repetitive strain injuries.
  • Tennis elbow.
  • Hip osteoarthritis.
  • Shin splits.
  • Shoulder pain.

Dry Needling Vs. IMS - Similarities

Dry needling and IMS share similar principles and objectives. Both therapeutic techniques promote healing, relieve pain, and restore muscle and nerve function.

Stimulating Healing

Dry needling and IMS stimulate the body's natural healing process. Your physiotherapist will insert fine needles into specific areas of the body or trigger points to increase blood flow and stimulate the release of endorphins and serotonin. The release of these chemicals triggers the body's healing mechanisms, aiding in tissue repair and recovery.

Relieving Pain

Both dry needling and IMS relieve pain. The alternative treatment techniques target specific points in the body to reduce pain perception and relieve pain.

Improving Muscle Function

Dry needling and IMS aim to improve muscle and nerve function. During treatment, a physiotherapist uses a targeted approach to release tension in tight muscles and restore range of motion and flexibility.

Individualized Approach

Before commencing dry needling or IMS treatment, your physiotherapist will evaluate your symptoms and needs. Then, the treatment plans are tailored to address your symptoms, target specific areas, and improve function.

Gunn IMS Vs. Dry Needling – Differences

Although similar, dry needling and IMS are different treatment techniques. The scope of application and needle insertion technique for both treatment options differ.


IMS needling has roots in Western medicine. The technique targets dysfunctional muscles and nerves, relieving neuropathic pain and nerve-related dysfunctions. The approach to IMS involves a full body assessment of the upper and lower body quadrants and nerve testing to ascertain if it is the right treatment choice.

Dry needling also has roots in Western medicine and addresses musculoskeletal concerns. The treatment focuses on identifying and treating myofascial trigger points within the muscles to relieve pain and restore muscle function.

Needle Insertion Techniques

Dry needling involves the use of thin, solid filament needles. These needles are inserted into the muscles' trigger points or taut bands to stimulate healing and alleviate pain. Usually, the depth of insertion varies depending on the target area and the desired effect.

IMS uses acupuncture needles. These needles are inserted into specific body points to relieve pain. The needle insertion itself is virtually painless. However, a hypersensitive muscle will grasp the needles, creating a twitch or contraction. This twitch initiates the natural healing process, drawing blood to the area and alleviating pain.

Dry Needling Vs. IMS – Side Effects

Both dry needling and IMS are safe, primarily when performed by trained physiotherapists at Okotoks, AB. Nevertheless, as with any medical intervention, these techniques have potential risks and side effects.

Side effects of dry needling and IMS include temporary discomfort, fatigue, soreness, and bruising or bleeding at needle insertion sites. Your Okotoks physiotherapist will carry out a comprehensive assessment to ensure that you experience minimal side effects.

Dry needling Vs. IMS – Candidacy

Candidates for dry needling include people experiencing musculoskeletal pain. If you have knee, back, or neck pain or sports-related injuries, dry needling might be your best treatment option. Furthermore, people suffering from chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia may benefit from dry needling treatment. Dry needling is also ideal for patients with myofascial trigger points experiencing limited range of motion or muscle dysfunction.

On the other hand, candidates for IMS are mostly people experiencing neuropathic pain caused by nerve irritation or dysfunction. Furthermore, suppose you are experiencing nerve-related dysfunctions like muscle weakness or impaired muscle control due to nerve damage or impingement. In that case, IMS may relieve pain and improve nerve function. Other candidates for IMS include people with movement disorders like dystonia.

Dry Needling Vs. IMS – How Long Does Treatment Take?

The length of treatment for both dry needling and IMS depends on your symptoms and conditions. People with less severe conditions do not need as much treatment as those with more severe conditions.

Generally, many people see results within 2 to 3 sessions of dry needling. Each dry needling session may take about 30 to 45 minutes. On the other hand, you may need about 3 to 4 sessions of IMS before seeing improvement in your injuries. The first session takes about one hour. The length of subsequent sessions depends on the severity of your injuries.

Dry Needling Vs. IMS – Which One Is Best?

Both dry needling and IMS alleviate pain and restore range of motion. Therefore, these alternative treatment options are often used in physiotherapy programs, including manual therapy and exercise programs. However, it is essential to note that although dry needling and IMS work for pain, you may not qualify for the treatment. For instance, pregnant women shouldn't get the treatment.

Therefore, before developing your tailored treatment plan, your physiotherapist will examine your condition, symptoms, and medical history.


Dry needling and IMS are effective treatment techniques for relieving pain and restoring function. These alternative treatment methods target musculoskeletal and nerve conditions, ensuring you are in good health. Before choosing either treatment, you must visit a physiotherapist to assess your situation and make a personalized recommendation.

Our physiotherapists at Dynamic Physiotherapy in Okotoks, AB, are always ready to offer professional guidance and develop the most suitable therapeutic approach to address your unique needs for pain relief and improved well-being.

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