In The News


IMS can help provide relief from nagging pain
By P.J. Wren

Injuries and pain – we’ve all had to live with them as they are an unfortunate part of life. But how do we treat pain when there has been no obvious injury, or sign of injury, and the pain is slowly sneaking into our everyday lives?

The majority of us will recover quickly from our injuries. In fact, more than 90 per cent of us will be fully functioning within eight weeks of being injured, simply because of our body’s natural ability to heal itself. However, there is that remaining 10 per cent of us who, after months of constant pain and medical assessments, will still not have a diagnosis that will produce lasting relief. This persistent, chronic pain will not only limit an individual’s life’s activities, but can also bring the individual to their emotional limits.

There are three distinct categories of pain: nociception, inflammation and neuropathy.

Nociception is the immediate response of pain to the brain. This immediate response is letting our grey matter know there could be a tissue injury, and to be aware. A good example of nociception is walking into the coffee table – instantaneously the brain is made aware of a painful shin.

Now, after we’ve walked into that coffee table we will then experience inflammation. Inflammation is the local response to pain, meaning that only the affected area (in this case our shin) will become affected. The inflamed tissue will become red, swollen and warm to touch. As much as inflammation hurts, it is an important and crucial part of the healing process.

The third category of pain, neuropathy, is what that 10 per cent of us mentioned above will experience. Neuropathy is that constant, ongoing pain with no obvious signs of injury to the muscle or its surrounding structures. Neuropathy is caused by a malfunction in the peripheral nervous system due to a minor irritation. The point of irritation is almost always at the root of the nerve where it emerges from the spinal column. Because nerves fan out from the spine, irritation of a nerve root can be responsible for pain in any part of the body.

Examples of neuropathic pain are:

  • Chronic ‘whiplash’ pain
  • Spinal pain, including sciatica and low back pain
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Repetitive strain syndrome
  • Shoulder and neck pain
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Myofascial trigger points
  • Tennis elbow/golfer’s elbow
  • Trigger finger
  • Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome
  • Piriformis syndrome
  • Shin splints
  • Patello-femoral syndrome
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • Plantar fasciitis

People who suffer from these syndromes (and the chronic pain associated with them) have often tried one treatment after another – massage, physiotherapy, heat, spinal manipulation, drugs and even surgery – only to find temporary relief. However, with a breakthrough in the study of chronic pain a new method of diagnosis and treatment called intramuscular stimulation (IMS) has emerged.

IMS was developed by Dr. Chan Gunn, clinical professor at the University of Washington’s Multidisciplinary Pain Centre in Seattle, and at UBC’s Medical School. It is now used at many pain centres, as well as our very own Tsawwassen Sports & Orthopaedic Physiotherapy Clinic. It has gained the respect of practitioners around the world.

IMS is a specialized form of pain treatment, with only a handful of practitioners in the Lower Mainland practicing it. Fortunately for us, Delta’s Val Moilliet, owner of Tsawwassen Sports & Orthopaedic Physiotherapy Clinic, is one of four IMS therapists in her clinic.

The goal of IMS is to address the neuropathic pain by releasing the shortened muscles which irritate the nerves, and in turn desensitizing the painful, supersensitive areas. IMS draws on both the traditional practice of acupuncture and recent advances in medical research. It provides lasting relief with few side-effects.

Moilliet explains that a treatment of IMS would begin with a thorough neuro-musculoskeletal examination and muscle testing. Treatment would then typically begin by placing needles near the spine to release the tight spinal muscles (and also where the roots of the nerve originate) and then outwards into the tight bands in the peripheral muscle bellies.

IMS needles are adapted from those used in acupuncture. They are disposable and are never reused. The therapist inserts the IMS needle – a process called needling – wherever there are tender and tight muscle bands (which were found during the therapist’s initial examination).

If the muscle is “normal,” then the insertion is painless. However, if it is supersensitive and shortened, you will feel a cramping sensation as the muscle “grabs” onto the needle. This grabbing is the shortening of your already abnormal shortened muscle, intensified. Moilliet assures me this uncomfortable cramping usually only lasts for a few seconds, and that it is critical to the healing process. After the needle is released, the muscle then relaxes and long-term relief follows.

Moilliet and her colleagues typically recommend once-a-week sessions with IMS, complemented with a gentle home stretching and strengthening program (when deemed appropriate). The number of sessions is dictated by the severity of the problem, the overall health of the patient and the amount of scar tissue involved.

I have seen friends and clients who have had relief in as few as two treatments.

To book an IMS appointment at Tsawwassen Sports & Orthopaedic Physiotherapy Clinic, call 604-943-8277.

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