If you’ve ever visited a physical therapist to rehabilitate a soft tissue injury, it’s possible you have experienced a form of electrical muscle stimulation, or e-stim therapy (also referred to as EMS). Another form of e-stim therapy called TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) works on nerves rather than muscles.
TENS therapy can issue electrical stimulation at different wavelengths for different purposes (relaxation, circulation, blocking pain) and can sometimes be performed at home after the patient has been taught the proper and safe use of the EMS devices. When used for recovery, rehabilitation, muscle training, or pain relief, neuromuscular electrical stimulation and TENS devices are normally administered by professionals: for example, sports medicine physicians, physical therapists, or orthopedists. There are, however, some devices available for over-the-counter purchases and home use.
Some of the common uses of prescription EMS therapy include:
Relieving back spasms. Electric muscle stimulation can relax back muscles, easing tightness and soreness in the lower back area. Sciatica symptoms, for example, can be caused by back muscles in spasms. Stopping the spasm may relieve the pressure on the sciatic nerve. EMS can also help with muscle tightness and soreness from other spinal issues, including postural problems and scoliosis.
Working weakened or atrophied muscles. Broken bones, soft tissue injuries, spinal cord injuries, neuromuscular disorders, stroke, and certain forms of illness can inhibit movement and exercise, causing muscles to become weak from disuse. E-stim can be used to keep these muscles active and prevent atrophy.
Retraining muscles after surgery or illness. Occasionally, following orthopedic surgery or illness (such as a stroke), a patient may have difficulty contracting muscles at will. In such cases, e-stim can be used for “muscle re-education.”
The electrical impulses contract the muscle involuntarily. If the patient concentrates on voluntarily contracting this muscle during the therapy, the brain may re-learn how to do so without help.