Acupuncture vs IMS – What’s the Difference?

My patients often ask me: “What is the difference between Acupuncture and IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation/Dry Needling)?” In this blog post, I’ve summarized three key differences in these popular treatments:

 1. History

Acupuncture is a technique based in traditional Chinese medicine and is thousands of years old. It involves inserting needles into specific acupuncture points to relieve pain and other ailments.

IMS uses the same needles but is based in Western medicine’s knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Instead of stimulating specific acupuncture points, we base insertion points on a thorough physical examination which includes muscle tightness and pain. The needle is inserted into specific trigger points eliciting a twitch response from the muscle allowing the release of unwanted tension and improvement of nerve sensitization.

It is important to note that the needles do not inject anything into the body and all needles are single use and sterile.

2. Session Length and Experience

The acupuncture experience usually consists of several needles inserted into your body and left there while you lay still for 20-30 minutes on average. In comparison, IMS is a dynamic, hands-on treatment where the practitioner continually works to stimulate the trigger points within the affected muscle to elicit a twitch response.

IMS is typically a shorter session than acupuncture but will often leave the patient with a bit more soreness after completion. One may feel like they have had a flu shot or a “Charlie Horse” at the insertion point 24-48 hours after treatment. However, once this has passed, the muscle will feel much more relaxed and in a better condition than before the treatment.

3. Treatment Length

Acupuncture is used for so many different ailments that it is extremely hard to predict how long treatment will need to continue. It is best to consult with your Acupuncturist to determine a treatment plan.

With IMS, patients often experience significant improvements within the first few sessions. However, patients may require further treatment depending on their condition. Reassessment will be conducted to see if IMS should be continued or if a shift in focus to change the treatment approach is necessary. Of course, results may vary and your practitioner will work with you to ensure you have the most appropriate treatment for your condition.

If you have any further questions regarding IMS treatment, feel free to contact us or email us at the clinic at


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