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Sport Physiotherapy, Sports Therapy
What are Dry Needling & IMS?
May 24, 2019 | by Adrienne Chan, Fortius Physiotherapist

Physiotherapists are often asked about dry needling and IMS, specifically: what they are and how they differ from traditional acupuncture? After all, the tools we use, (thin solid needles) are often the same.

Dry needling and IMS are the primary types of acupuncture used at Fortius, but these differ in both technique and purpose from the traditional form of acupuncture.

First, let’s clarify the difference between dry needling and IMS:

Dry needling (DN) is primarily directed at trigger points, which are identified as tender palpable points within the muscle (you can often feel the bump by touch). These points can be caused by improper loading, sustained poor posture, physical and emotional stress, and dehydration.

IMS (intramuscular stimulation) differs from dry needling in that IMS is a system for both the diagnosis and treatment of 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.

The treatment involves dry needling of the affected areas of the body, which can be muscles in our extremities, and they can be near the spine where the nerve root for the affected muscle have become irritated.

How this differs from traditional acupuncture:


Both dry needling and IMS are used to help musculoskeletal dysfunction (pain or restrictions in mobility) but do not act on internal functioning. In both, points chosen for treatment can overlap with acupuncture points. Visit our previous article on Acupuncture and Physiotherapy for the full list of needling benefits.

In traditional acupuncture, the purpose is to stimulate the body’s release of endorphins, and to balance energy and circulation in the body to improve pain and influence both the musculoskeletal and internal functions. Traditional acupuncture produces effects in areas of the body other than just the area of needling.


In dry needling, an acupuncture needle is inserted into the trigger points mentioned above, to treat the muscle involved.

In traditional acupuncture, treatment areas are based on the principles of meridians (channels of energy flow in the body) where needling is done along the points on meridian lines.


For both dry needling and IMS, only one needle is inserted at a time and inserted for a few seconds (they’re not left in).

In traditional acupuncture, the needles are typically left in for 15 minutes or longer.


In dry needling and IMS, more than one muscle can be treated in a session and both techniques create some muscle soreness during treatment, which may last from a few hours to a few days. This soreness can range from dull and aching to a local jump sensation (which often indicates that the affected muscle is responding).

This very temporary discomfort is followed by significant muscle relaxation, improved mobility and reduction of pain. In both, there is an immediate effect on the muscle that is felt almost instantaneously (note that often, more than one session of needling, followed by proper exercise and management, is required for a lasting effect).

Traditional acupuncture is gentle in that only mild discomfort is felt.

We hope that helps summarize the difference between these two types of services.

Visit our website to learn more about our physiotherapy services, or call us today to book your next appointment!