Electrical Muscle Stimulation: Does It Really Work?

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Did you know that in the US, the number of people suffering from chronic back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, etc. are estimated to be 2.5 million, or almost 7% of the population. (National Center for Health Statistics [1], 2010). 3.8 billion dollars is spent each year on average from out-of-pocket expenses on back pain alone. The most shocking is that studies shows that 9 in 10 people suffer from some form of back pain at least once during their lifetime. 

Given our modern-day living styles, this is not surprising. The typical American worker spends more than 8 hours per day sitting in a chair; and given a 40-hour workweek that’s more than 1000 hours per year. Most of us fall in this statistic and suffer from some form of pain. 

EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulator) devices are said to provide relief from many types of pain including back pain. Some people even swear by it as a cure, claiming that they’re able to stop using their analgesics and muscle relaxants after using EMS for months or years. In this article we will take a look at what science says about EMS devices or pulse massagers and see how these can be used at home to alleviate aches and pains.

What is EMS or Pulse Massager?

EMS or Pulse Massager is a self-treatment device that uses electrical stimulation to your muscles. It works by sending small electric pulses into your body via pads attached to your skin. These pulses stimulate the muscles, which in turn rebuild tissue and increases blood circulation in the area being treated.

The speed of recovery and the overall effectiveness depends on your physique, fitness level, age and many other factors. The faster your muscles recover from workouts or injuries the better physical shape you are in. It also helps with arthritis pain management (back pains) as well as to reduce stress levels.

How does EMS work?

Here’s how EMS works: The device sends electrical signals through electrodes to the target muscle. The skin of the muscle contracts and shortens, inducing a stretch reflex on the nerve. This causes both contraction of the muscle fibers and an impulse that travels through the nerves to the brain. This allows the brain to re-educate the muscle by learning how to correctly fire all of the muscle fibers. The body then builds new neural pathways and adaptations, allowing for faster recovery and a permanent reduction in pain and soreness.

This is why EMS has been such an effective tool for getting back into shape so quickly after surgery or injury when using the proper protocol. One of the most important protocols in the recovery process is to stimulate, or “educate”, your muscle fibers which are responsible for movement using Self Myofascial Release (SMR) [2] and stretching techniques. EMS stimulates the Golgi tendon organ, a stretch reflex within the muscle itself, which sends an impulse through your nerves to the part of your brain that controls muscle contraction, allowing you to contract muscles that are not moving normally.

In practice for recovery from severe injury or surgery, EMS is a vital tool to improve mobility and reduce inflammation. EMS can be used with stretching (passive) or resisted isolated movements (active). In general, it should be used at least

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How to use EMS muscle stimulator

The electrical muscle stimulator is used for stimulation of target muscles, with the main purpose of rehabilitation. EMS (also known as Electo-Myostimulation) is a form of neuromuscular electrical stimulation in which signals are sent to muscle via electrodes. EMS is used clinically to aid in the prevention of disuse muscle atrophy, especially in the case of spinal cord injury and stroke.

The device consists of a control unit and electrodes that are connected to the body. Electrodes can be placed on the skin with a gel or paste. The strength and frequency of stimulation is increased gradually until muscles start to contract; after which it is decreased again back to initial level.

How Long Should You Use Electrical Muscle Stimulation For?

It’s likely that stimulation sessions will be a regular part of your rehabilitation program for several weeks. The length of time needed to achieve noticeable results varies but is dependent on your overall condition and medical history.

However, most of the time it is safe to use EMS therapy for 20-30minutes at a time 3-5 days a week. For safety reasons, it is important you follow the instructions given by your physiotherapist. Always check your skin for any signs of irritation or sensitivity before and after use as this will help prevent burns and blisters.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation Benefits

Electrical Muscle Stimulation, E-Stim as it is commonly known, is a fantastic tool for not only rehab patients but also bodybuilders and sportsmen. 

The main advantages of EMS are that you can train each muscle group individually, you can develop every part of the muscle whether it be the peak or the lower fibers and with constant stimulation you won’t overwork any one area. Also since there is no lactic acid build up in your muscles there is little chance of injury to tendons or ligaments.

This type of electrical stimulation is used by people worldwide to improve sports performance, rehabilitate injuries and when bodybuilding since it helps you to develop the muscle to its maximum potential without over-training. With this method of training, you have total control over your muscles allowing you to contract them in any way and at varying intensities. You can have complete control over your workout and rest periods.

Studies have shown that patients using EMS or pulse massage techniques have a significant increase in range of motion, strength and overall muscle tone.

Another use of this technique is to use EMS for weight loss. One of the first studies that looked at EMS treatment for obesity showed positive results after 8 weeks, combining EMS with a low-calorie diet, subjects lost an average of 7 pounds. However, keep in mind that this was only when patients used both e-stim and dieting together.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation Side Effects

While EMS has huge benefits, it also comes with some disadvantages and risks that you need to know about before deciding whether or not to give this method a try. One of the most important things is how EMS will affect you in the long run, as well as your workouts in general. That being said, you should take the time to talk with your doctor about it before you decide to start using EMS.

Conclusion

One of the primary benefits to using electrical muscle stimulators for pain relief is that they are so inexpensive compared to other modalities. They can even be self-administered without the direct supervision of a clinician. 

Based on your requirements, you are sure to find an EMS unit that fit your needs, which makes it a great investment. To help with this search, we have heavily researched and reviewed the best EMS units on the market. You will find all the information about the best of the best EMS devices there. 

We have a detailed guide to help you compare how an EMS unit is different from a TENS unit.

You can also continue reading more such informational health and wellness guides here.