So you’ve heard about Acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). Sometimes it’s referred to as Dry Needling. Perhaps you’ve experienced one or both, but you’re wondering, what’s the difference? Well it turns out they’re actually pretty similar. Here’s what you need to know:

Acupuncture Treatment for MCL Injury

1) Where did it Start?

IMS is NOT a new treatment, it is simply eastern medicine disguised as western medicine. All the techniques used in IMS have been used in traditional Chinese acupuncture for over 3000 years and it is derived from a technique commonly called “Burning the Mountain” or “Cooling the Sky.”  There are several techniques in traditional Chinese acupuncture that involve inserting the needle to various depths and quickly removing it.

2) Difference in Training

In regards to knowledge of the human body, acupuncturists and other health practitioners have similar training. Contrary to what most people think, acupuncturists are trained in western medicine. In fact they must complete almost all the same courses as a medical student. The actual training in needling technique and practical hours is what varies. Check out What Do You Know About Your Health Care Professional?.

3) Types of Needles

Acupuncturists, physiotherapists and other health practitioners all use the SAME needles, it’s up to the practitioner to decide what type, size and length they will use. This changes depending on the area of the body, the condition being treated and practitioner preference.

4) Needle Location

Acupuncturist typically use traditional points that are located along meridians and have a very specific location based on surface anatomy. The points used for IMS are based more on internal anatomy and muscle tension, however many acupuncturist including myself, use this technique. More often than not these points end up being in the same location as a traditional acupuncture point.

5) Sensation from the Needle

For IMS the needle is typically inserted for a few seconds and then removed. Sometimes it is left longer if the practitioner uses some form of electro-stimulation, which we will talk about next. Acupuncture needles are usually left inserted for 20-30 minutes. Patients tend to report IMS as being a bit more uncomfortable because the needle is constantly moved around until the muscle tension releases. This technique might also be used in an acupuncture treatment when treating pain and muscle problems, however usually once the needle is inserted it is left in place with very little manual manipulation.Patient being treated for shin splints with acupuncture and E-stim

6) Stimulation of Points

Electro-stimulation or E-Stim machines used to stimulate the muscle may or may not be the same. This also varies based on the practitioner’s discretion. Almost all acupuncturist will use an E-Stim machine and other health practitioners usually use a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS machine. They both do pretty much the same thing, however the way they produce wave forms differs when providing stimulation to the muscle. They both achieve the same results but based on experience the current from the E-Stim machine achieves results faster because it is continuous.

Hopefully this helps clear up some confusion regarding the difference between Acupuncture and IMS. Be sure you understand what type of treatment you’re receiving and don’t forget to ask questions.