Spa Junkie on… Intramuscular Stimulation at KX Spa, London

Stiff shoulders and neck prompt our reporter to try an acupuncture-meets-massage treatment

Image: Jay Yeo

I usually have a massage once a week, but few are noteworthy enough to single out. Once in a while there’s an exception to prove the rule, and my recent massage at the hands of Tania Mattock at London’s KX Spa is such a one.

I love a firm approach – fingers, hands, elbows and arms digging into my knots – but Tania is also known for an extra twist: the introduction of acupuncture needles in a technique called Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS). Unlike traditional acupuncture, which works on energy and meridian lines that relate to different parts of the body, this is anatomy-specific and focuses on relieving stiffness and pain in the back, shoulder and – in my case – what I call “mobile-phone neck”.

A recent study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers found that the average mobile-phone user looks at their handset almost 150 times a day to check the time, send messages, find information and make calls. Given that I have both a BlackBerry and an iPhone, my numbers must be higher. “It shows,” says Tania, gently feeling my shoulders and neck.

She starts by massaging my back, neck and shoulder muscles to warm them up and release tension. Then she takes eight IMS needles and eases them into muscles in my shoulders, shoulder blades and the back of my neck. Once they are in, she tweaks them to make sure they are optimised to ease muscle tension. It’s not pleasant, but the pain only lasts for a few minutes with each one. She explains that the pain arises from neuromuscular massage and the fact that she’s locating a spot in the taut muscle that will cause a biochemical change to help it to relax.

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While the needles are left to work their magic for varying lengths of time, she massages my lower back and legs – deep strokes interspersed with bending and stretching. After 20 minutes Tania takes the remaining needles out and announces: “There’s a world of difference now – these muscles have really softened up.” She then kneads away any remaining tension. My muscles feel sensitive but there’s also a huge sense of relief – a kind of relaxation I haven’t felt in a long time.

To finish, she rolls me onto each side to massage up and down, over hips, arms and legs, before gently rocking me and announcing my time is up – massages never seem long enough!

The Bottom Line

I cannot recommend IMS more highly. Although there was an element of pain during the massage, afterwards I felt the benefit – I was more limber and considerably less stiff and tense. KX may be a members’ club, but the spa is open to everyone and I encourage members and non-members alike to give this different style of massage a try.

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Spa Junkie is the founder of FaceGym. She pays for all her own travel, accommodation and therapies. Follow her on Instagram @spajunkiechronicles.

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