What IS the difference between IMS, Dry Needling, and Acupuncture?

Posted on


There are many ways to use needles to affect change in local tissue or whole body systems.  In this article, I explain the key differences between IMS (intramuscular stimulation), Dry Needling, and traditional Acupuncture.


In terms of the tools involved, they all use fine needles, except the IMS needles are slightly thicker.

The technique and goals of treatment.

Dry needling is primarily directed at trigger points, which are identified as tender
palpable points within the muscle. Dry needling involves insertion of an acupuncture needle into these trigger points to release the tightness.

IMS differs from dry needling in that IMS is a total system for the diagnosis and
treatment of chronic pain of a neuropathic origin.

Neuropathic pain occurs when nerves malfunction following injury or tissue irritation. Nerve endings become overly sensitive and begin to interpret normal sensations as pain. IMS relies
heavily on a thorough physical examination by a certified practitioner trained to
recognize the physical signs of neuropathic pain.

The treatment involves needling of affected areas of the body, which can be muscles in the periphery, or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated. Only one
needle is inserted at a time and stays in for only a few seconds; multiple muscles
may be treated in one session. This type of needling creates some muscle
soreness during treatment and may last for a few hours to a day or two. This
temporary discomfort is followed by significant muscle relaxation, improved
mobility and reduction of pain.

Like IMS, traditional acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine needles;
however the technique and purpose are very different from each other.
Traditional acupuncture is very gentle with only mild discomfort association with
insertion of the needles. Selection of treatment areas are based on the principles
of Chinese meridians (channels of energy flow in the body). In traditional
acupuncture the needles are typically left in for 15-20 minutes or longer and the
purpose is to stimulate the body’s release of natural painkillers (endorphins) and
anti-inflammatory substances. Traditional acupuncture produces effects in areas of the
body other than just the area of needling.

Liked this article?

Check out some of our other great posts from our blog.