What is IMS and is it right for me?

By Lakeview Physio
Renée Hill
BScPT, Certified Gunn IMS, Spinal Manipulation, FCAMPT
February 22, 2019

IMS can be a valuable treatment tool to release the deep fibers of the tight muscles, thereby improving flexibility and decreasing pressure on the joint, as well facilitate successful recruitment of the appropriate muscles to help provide support to the joint.

An overview of IMS and the conditions it can be used to treat.

Have you ever had a friend, colleague or family member say that they have benefited from IMS treatment at their physiotherapy appointment? Has someone ever recommended that you try IMS but you don’t really know what would be done, or who would do it? Well, now’s the time and place to learn what this IMS business is all about and if it is indeed right for you to help treat your aches and pains!.

What is IMS?

IMS stands for intramuscular stimulation.  It’s a well-established treatment technique that was adapted from traditional acupuncture but isn’t acupuncture proper.  Simply put, it involves the insertion of an acupuncture needle into a tight muscle to evoke a muscle contraction followed by a reflex relation. There is, of course, a lot more science behind it (see the Gunn IMS website for the nitty gritty details), but that’s essentially what is happening.

IMS is a highly versatile tool that is used primarily by specially trained physiotherapists to help address a multitude of issues.  Yes, it can be uncomfortable, but it offers profound results especially when used in combination with a variety other physiotherapy techniques, specifically tailored to you and your unique presentation of symptoms.

IMS can be an effective form of treatment for acute conditions as well as chronic ones, addressing a wide range of populations, ranging from high-performance athletes to Average Joes of all ages.  

Let’s consider some conditions that Physiotherapists see every day and that may benefit from this type of treatment:


Cervicogenic headaches are frequently treated and managed by physiotherapists.  Symptoms of this type of headache originate from the boney and soft tissue elements of the cervical spine, more commonly known as the neck.  The joints can be chronically compressed by the surrounding tight muscles, often a result of chronic poor posture.  When properly diagnosed, IMS can help effectively release the affected muscles causing direct or indirect pressure on the small joints in the neck to help lessen the intensity, frequency, and duration of the headaches.  Postural correction exercises will then be taught, to help maintain the proper length of the released muscles and strengthen the chronically weak ones.


Most of us know someone who has sustained a whiplash injury, which in the simplest of terms, is really just the description of a mechanism of injury which involves a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the neck and head.  The most widely known cause of whiplash is, of course, motor vehicle accidents. A common feature of whiplash is pain and lack of mobility in the neck and spine, due to soft tissue compromise.  Intensity and duration of symptoms, as well as specific tissue involvement, can, however, be highly variable from one case to the next.  Depending on the stage of injury and recovery, IMS may be indicated to help decrease muscle tension and reduce pressure on the joints of the neck and spine in order to facilitate rehabilitation of the weak and injured muscles.


Shoulder bursitis is a relatively common affliction among the general population. A bursa is a fluid-filled sack that is strategically located in various areas of high friction in the body. The onset of bursitis can be traumatic or acquired over time.  A bursa can become inflamed and irritated for a variety of reasons, including poor posture, muscle imbalances, training errors, as well as trauma, to name a few.  Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication as prescribed by a physician can help reduce the initial symptoms and get you on your way.  In more severe cases, injections may also be prescribed by a physician to settle the inflammation, thereby providing relief of the associated symptoms.  If, however, the biomechanics of the area remain such that tight muscles continue to impart undue pressure on the bursa, symptoms will likely return and possibly become chronic.  IMS can help address the tight muscles that might be perpetuating the problem, and also help allow for the strengthening of the appropriate muscles that may not be providing adequate support to the area, whether it’s a shoulder, hip, or knee.


Tendonitis is a condition that refers to inflammation of a tendon.  Tendons form the connection between a muscle and a bone.  A common form of tendonitis is tennis elbow, which occurs in many people, not just tennis players.   It generally refers to irritation of the wrist extensor muscles, the tendons of which arise from a common origin on the outer aspect of the elbow.  This irritation could be the result of many different activities involving gripping and repetitive movements.  Often, there are trigger points in the forearm muscles that are causing undue tension on the tendon, generally translating as outer elbow pain.  Using IMS to release these tight muscles can help reduce tension on the tendon. Once the muscles are released, strength and endurance training can then be used to alleviate and prevent the return of pain.

Back Pain

Back pain is a leading cause of disability worldwide.  There are a plethora of different reasons why people experience back pain, but if it’s musculoskeletal in nature (i.e. muscles, joints, tendons, fascia), which a physiotherapist can help determine, IMS may indeed be helpful.  IMS can help reduce muscle tension in order to decrease compression on a nerve (as in some cases of sciatica), relax overactive muscles that are often compensating for other deficiencies (a weak core) or to release a tight-weak muscle, thereby allowing for full range of muscle contraction and relaxation.

Hip pain

Osteoarthritis is a major cause of hip pain.  It is often characterized by limited joint motion as well as tight and weak muscles.  Multiple studies support conservative care in the mild to moderate stages of the disease, including addressing strength, flexibility and mobility issues.  Tight and weak muscles surrounding the affected joint can cause undue pressure and contribute to the pain experience.  IMS can be a valuable treatment tool to release the deep fibers of the tight muscles, thereby improving flexibility and decreasing pressure on the joint, as well facilitate successful recruitment of the appropriate muscles to help provide support to the joint.

Knee pain

Pain in the front of the knee can be both annoying and cause functional restrictions, both in activities of daily living and leisure pursuits. Perhaps you get pain in your knee after sitting for long periods, or maybe with more robust activities such as hiking. In either instance, one common objective finding may include a tight and short on the front of the thigh (quadriceps femoris).  By first releasing the muscle with IMS, better length can be obtained, thereby decreasing the pressure on the knee cap itself and where the quadriceps tendon inserts below.  Effective strengthening can then often successfully follow.

Foot pain

Plantar fasciitis can be a debilitating affliction causing many people to search for solutions.  By the time someone ends up in a clinic, the causes are often multi-faceted.  For example, tight calves can contribute to under pressure on the connective tissue on the bottom of the foot.  Releasing these tight muscles and learning how to keep them loose can be one piece of the puzzle to address the pain in the bottom of the foot.

And let’s not forget about our daily aches and pains!

Let’s face it, as time passes, many of us start to notice areas of chronic tension and discomfort.  Perhaps it’s due to stress, lack of exercise, poor posture or atypical demands on our tissues.  Sometimes we just need a little help to release the tight muscles, learn the right exercises, and move on.  Unresolved aches and pains don’t always have to be tolerated.  Giving into the adage “it’s just old age” isn’t the answer. Proper diagnosis of the cause of the issue may uncover an area of muscle tension that needs to be addressed.  IMS is a quick and effective way to do so. And, in conjunction with treatment of the other contributing factors, IMS can help you get back to doing the things you love.

As you might have already guessed, the common theme here is that IMS is a technique that can be used to treat a multitude of conditions. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Consultation with a qualified Physiotherapist is essential to determine diagnosis and the appropriate treatment plan.  At Lakeview Physiotherapy & Acupuncture, there is no extra charge for this treatment as it is just one of the tools IMS trained physiotherapists may choose as part of your treatment plan. Frequency and number of treatment sessions required are unique to each patient and is recommended following a thorough assessment.

Now that you know what IMS, you can book an assessment or IMS treatment with Lakeview Physiotherapy & Acupuncture by calling (403) 249 – 5253 or using our convenient online booking feature.


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