CSA Physio Blog

Acupuncture vs Gunn IMS – Which is better for me?

Posted on: May 3rd, 2018 by Lindsay Walker

I am often asked about the difference between Gunn IMS (Intramuscular Stimulation) and traditional Chinese acupuncture.   A common question is “which one is better?”  One is not necessarily “better” than the other.  The answer depends on your therapist’s training, the injury or condition that is being treated, and any previous experiences with either treatment approach that you may have.  One of my jobs is to help you determine which type of treatment is most likely to solve your issue.

Meridians on Model - Gunn IMS or Acupuncture


Both treatments utilize disposable acupuncture needles that do not inject any substance.  The needle creates a (very) small wound in the tissue causing micro-bleeding which stimulates your body’s natural healing process.  Despite what you may have heard regarding treatment being uncomfortable – acupuncture and IMS are often described by patients as being gentle treatments!  There is no reason that Gunn IMS must be aggressive.  We can employ a gentle version where required.  Some clients do prefer the deep aching and twitch response that commonly occurs.  In acupuncture this sensation is called De Qi.


Gunn IMS is a model that follows specific assessment parameters in order to determine what muscles have underlying nerve irritation (neuropathy).  The resulting tight and tender muscle knots are treated using a single insertion point.  This is clearly different than the often-used multiple needle technique found in acupuncture.  Additionally, the needles are not necessarily left in for any length of time.  Often the mild ache or muscle twitch is all that is needed.  Some insertion points may only last for a second.  It is often the case that the muscle(s) can temporarily feel more achy or sore following treatment.  This is due to the release of healing chemical to an injured area.


We select points following a well mapped out meridian, or energy channel, which runs through the body.  Often, multiple needles may be left in for 15-20 minutes.  As a physiotherapist using acupuncture, the points I choose are also based on a musculoskeletal approach.  If there is a tender part of the muscle which does not fall along a meridian, I will often leave a needle in this “ashi point”.  Acupuncturists may refer to these as “points of most tenderness”.


Each person is different in their injury presentation and response to treatment.  There is no cookie cutter answer.  However, I will recommend Gunn IMS for an injury which has a neuropathic or nerve component.  Examples include chronic back pain, tennis elbow, or perhaps an injury that has not responded to more conventional treatment.  I will often use acupuncture in addition to other physical therapy techniques (such as manual therapy, exercise) to help settle an injury which typically does not have a neuropathic component (for example, an acute ankle sprain).  Sometimes clients are a bit more nervous with needling, and acupuncture can be a very soothing way to introduce them to this type of treatment.


Talk to your physiotherapist about any questions or concerns you have.  Although there is no accepted ‘rule’, my preference is to treat according to the assessment.  If I find neuropathy and tight contracted muscles, I often recommend Gunn IMS.  If I view the issue as a pain or hypersensitivity issue I may suggest acupuncture.  There is a huge variety of conditions that acupuncture can treat, and I invite you to read other blogs on the topic.  There is no hard and fast rule about which treatment is preferable, and sometimes I find it necessary to change from one to the other over the course of your care. What is important is that you are comfortable with the treatment you are receiving, and know you can always ask questions, or change your mind.


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