IMS vs. Acupuncture a Simple Comparison

Hello fam, friends and strangers alike!

I take it from the photo above of a peach getting poked that you can detect what this post is going to cover! Yes indeed, we are going to cover all things needle and pokey!! Every day I get asked many questions about IMS vs. Acupuncture. So this week's question is:

IMS (Intramuscular stimulation)/Dry-needling vs. Acupuncture

Firstly let's identify the similarities and differences

  • They both use a sterile surgical steel needle 0.2 mm to 0.3 mm in diameter, which is at times coated in parylene, especially when used for IMS in order to increase comfort

  • They both penetrate the dermal layer, going into the body. Acupuncture does at times involve going deeper if old style Chinese methods are utilized, however IMS onvolves exclusively going beyond just the skin through to the fascial layer and into the specified muscle belly.

  • They are both tools for the management of pain. However in addition, Acupuncture is used to treat a myriad of medical conditions ranging from skin disorders, visceral dysfunction and mental health issues. IMS is a tool solely for the management of musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunction, with the aims of alleviating the source of pain whether that is coming from a muscle belly or a nerve root.

  • The clinical reasoning behind acupuncture is based on a theoretical system within TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) called meridians, with which you cannot see or test. Due to the theorized framework, Acupuncture is classified as an alternative medicine and is labeled as a pseudo-science

  • The clinical reasoning behind IMS is based upon conventional anatomy as we have come to understand and test. Specific muscles/trigger points are palpated and often tested prior to treatment.

  • It's important to identify the elephant in the room. Needling as a whole is still very political, not so much here in Canada but in the United States. There are indeed some states where dry-needling isn't permitted by physical therapists due to the vague definitions of these needling like tools. Yet so, many PT's/certification bodies are advocating for mass adoption; for more reading on IMS history and research developments here in Canada, see below:

UBC Faculty of Medicine, division of sports medicine

So in an attempt to oversimplify a very politically contentious subject, today's physio tip is:


2) PAIN PERSISTS? Get your Physio to get their hands on you and watch you move, a simple rehab program may do as pain can often easily be modified

3) PAIN STILL PERSISTS? IMS could be a great tool to try to give your nervous system some new strong input and desensitize it.

Thanks for reading, comment away as a good discussion is always warranted!