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Back in 2008 I began to suffer significant lower back pain. At first, my back was just a little stiff and sore after hockey. Then, when playing a pickup game one evening with my brother-in-law, I did some real damage. It wasn’t anything big. I didn’t get hit, go crashing into the boards, or anything like that. No, I stooped down to pick up the puck for a face off. Not quite as embarrassing as hurting your back picking up a cracker, but I digress.

I was in a lot of pain. I finished the game (stupid, I know) and then struggled in the locker room. I couldn’t bend down to untie my skates. Showering was difficult. To get to the car I used my hockey stick as a cane. The next morning it took me almost 15 minutes to figure out how to get out of bed. Anytime I used any of my core muscles I was wracked with pain.

The diagnosis, courtesy an MRI, was a bulging disc at L3-4. Back surgery was recommended as the injury was pretty severe. So, I was placed on the wait list to see a specialist. It was somewhat lucky that there was a six month wait! During that time I started to explore other options. A physiotherapist friend told me about intramuscular stimulation, or IMS. It’s a treatment that kind of combines traditional eastern acupuncture with western medicine. I gave it a try and it worked like magic!

An IMS treatment consisted of dry needling of affected areas. The needles target either the epicenter of taut, tender muscle bands, or they can be near the spine where the nerve root may have become irritated and supersensitive. In other words, long thin needles are put directly in to your muscles. I know it sounds gruesome, but you don’t even really feel the needles going in. And, if the muscle tissue is healthy, it’s painless. But, when the needle hits a part of the muscle that is tight you definitely feel it. It’s like a sudden, intense ache. This pain only lasts seconds before it dissipates.

This treatment does three things:

  1. A stretch receptor in the muscle is triggered, which causes the muscle to relax. One of the biggest culprits to chonic soreness is tightening and shortening of muscles. The relaxing reflex that the IMS needle triggers helps elongate the muscle again.
  2. The needle causes a tiny injury which makes blood flow to the area, initiating the natural healing process.
  3. The treatment creates an electrical potential in the muscle to make the nerve function normally again.

After being treated for about 6 weeks, I was able to resume activity again. Within 6 months I was symptom free. My back still acts up on me from time to time, but a quick IMS treatment allows me to get back to being active very quickly.

If you suffer from chronic muscle pain, find a physiotherapist that does IMS and see if it will work for you too!

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