Dry needling (IMS)

Dry needling or Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS), is an effective treatment for chronic pain of radiculopathic origin. IMS was developed in Canada in 1976 by Dr Chan Gunn, a clinical professor at the University of Washington’s Multidisciplinary Pain Centre and the University of British Columbia’s Medical School. Although it is taught and used around the world it is not yet widely available in the United Kingdom.

James Davis writes: “I have been using IMS since 1993 when I inadvertently stumbled across the work of Dr Chan Gunn and his use of acupuncture needles in myofascial trigger points. Until that time I had been using acupressure techniques with elbows and thumbs into myofascial trigger points to relieve myofascial pain of chronic origin.

IMS is an extremely effective concept of treatment and one of the most effective treatments of pain of muscular origin. The use of other well known physiotherapy electrical modalities such as ultrasound, laser and short wave are now firmly redundant in my clinical practice. IMS is occasionally used as an adjunct to other treatment techniques.

IMS should only be performed by those practitioners who have undertaken a structured and validated course of training and obtained a Diploma in IMS. To date Dr Chan Gunn is the only authority providing this facility.”

Intramuscular stimulation, often mistakenly described as acupuncture, is based on scientific neurophysiological principles and is particularly effective in treating radicular pain. This type of pain occurs when nerves malfunction following minor irritation. The nerves and nerve endings become extremely sensitive, which is known as supersensitivity. Muscle shortening, caused by muscles going into spasm or contracting, produces pain by pulling on tendons and distressing the joints they move.

Muscle shortening increases wear and tear on joints and contributes to degenerative changes such as tendonitis and osteoarthritis. Intramuscular stimulation will release the shortened muscles which are pressing on and irritating nerves. Supersensitive areas can be desensitised and the persistent pull of shortened muscles released. For these same reasons it is also used to treat many other conditions including headaches, whiplash injuries and tennis elbow.

Treatment is highly effective and has few side effects. A fine acupuncture needle, much thinner than those used for injections or to take blood, is inserted into the trigger point in the shortened muscle. If the muscle is normal the needle is painless – if the muscle is shortened you will experience a strange sensation rather like a muscle cramp which is caused by the muscle grasping the needle. Patients soon learn to recognise and welcome this sensation. It is regarded as a ‘good’ or ‘positive’ sign because the discomfort soon disappears and is followed by a wonderful feeling of relaxation. The needling has caused the abnormal muscle shortening to intensify and then release and it is necessary to experience this sensation to gain lasting relief.


The effects of intramuscular stimulation are cumulative as needling stimulates the healing until the condition is healed and the pain disappears. Treatments are usually weekly and the number required will depend upon many factors, but James Davis will discuss this and answer any questions you have about intramuscular stimulation before treatment is commenced.