It’s injury prevention and treatment week here on Grind to 140! In light of Trevor’s recent post - OUCHY! Triathlete Injury (Prevention) Fun - I thought it apt to throw a quick post together on an element of my injury prevention that has paid consistent dividends for me - Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). For the record, I’m not a physiotherapist. This is not a medical review. I’m only intend to share my experience and its impact on me. If it perks your interest seek out a qualified physiotherapist for more information. Oh also, please don’t try dry needling yourself. That’s not smart. Or your friends. Also not smart.
With that covered off, let’s talk IMS.
When I first started training, during my run sessions I was getting a stabbing pain in my right knee and sometimes my left. The obvious reason for this is that my running technique is horrendous and wildly inefficient. But that aside, it got to the point where I couldn’t run on it anymore after 10km and stretching wasn’t helping loosen anything up. I made the decision to go to physio. With some targeted exercises, stretches and IMS treatment I was able to rectify this issue quickly. This decision fundamentally altered my training and introduced me to IMS.
So what is IMS? For a good overview check out this description from Why Things Hurt.
The short version: Intramuscular Stimulation or dry needling, is an extremely effective technique that helps alleviate knots and muscle tightness. IMS treatment is carried out by a specially trained physiotherapist, who will assess areas of your body where you have muscle knots. The therapist will then insert a needle into these areas (or sometimes areas that are contributing to tightness elsewhere) and move the needle in a search for muscle knots. When the needle enters the knot, the muscle will contract. You’ll feel a slight “charlie horse” or cramping sensation, followed by a twitch or spasm that lasts only a few seconds at most (it feels like the muscles jumps back into place). Not painful (in my opinion), but a little weird. Post-treatment (24-48 hrs) can feel a little achy, but after that you’ll be good to go.
Doesn’t that sound great????? While not the most appealing sounding treatment, I cannot express how much IMS has helped me continue training, when I otherwise would have been sidelined or had to reduce intensity and/or volume. Your muscles will feel relaxed immediately. In fact, now I’m able to jump immediately into a light training session with little to no impacts. I find the best description to be a feeling of complete muscle loosness, as if Mr. Gorbachev tore down the walls around your muscles and they can now move freely and without pain. Not very scientific, I know, but a great feeling that’s hard to describe.
I view IMS as a great way to deal with already existing muscle tightness resulting from your training. Treatment that is restorative, but not preventative. I supplement with regular stretching, massage and a love affair with my dimpled foam roller and lacrosse ball.
I’m a believer that a lot of muscle tightness is the result of muscle weakness or inhibition. With this in mind, I regularly visit a trained physiotherapist to help me address muscle imbalances and weaknesses. Increased muscle efficiency, strength and function is my ultimate goal, hopefully reducing the frequency of IMS.
As an example, more recently I have been experiencing muscle tightness in my calves. A visit to the physio has shown that I have a weakness in both ankle evertors. Likely the result of an ankle break many many moons ago that never fully rehabbed, that is now causing problems as I put increased focused on running. Sent home with some exercises and techniques to strengthen and activate these muscles when running, I’ve already started to notice some effort being unloaded from my calves. Hopefully, resulting in a preventative discovery and fix before a more serious issue develops.
The above is the exact reason why paying attention to your body and how it is reacting to training is of the utmost importance. I agree wholeheartedly with Trevor, injuries are not a badge of honour. They are goal killers. Put as much effort into an injury prevention plan as you do a training plan. As part of that, I would recommend discussing IMS with a trained, professional physiotherapist and see how/if it can be useful to you.
While some of these overlap with Trevor’s recommendations, here are my injury prevention reminders that are are worth repeating and will help you continue training injury free and with less overall muscle soreness:
- NEVER EVER neglect stretching. Make it routine. Google new stretches to keep it interesting. It needs to become a habit.
- Get regular massages.
- Invest in a foam roller. It will rarely let you down.
- When the roller does let you down use a lacrosse ball/golf ball/tennis ball. When you need to dig in deep it will answer the calling. I often use this to get into my hip flexors and they are great for your feet. I keep a golf ball and lacrosse ball in my office.
- Ask physiotherapist about IMS, my bet is it greatly improves your recovery and helps with prevention of injuries.
- Remember: Muscle tightness can often be related to muscle weakness. Don’t ignore the signals from your body