What is Electrical Muscle Stimulation?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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Also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation, electrical muscle stimulation is the use of controlled electrical impulses to create contractions in the various muscle groups around the body. In many ways, some form of electrotherapy can be very helpful in simulating the effects of regular exercise, and is sometimes employed as part of weight loss programs and sports training. Electrical muscle stimulation, or EMS, can also be used as a therapeutic tool, helping patients to prevent the occurrence of muscle atrophy after a prolonged recovery from illness or some type of injury that prevented a normal amount of movement from taking place.

While the methods of delivery vary, the process of electrical muscle stimulation normally involve the strategic placement of electrodes on the surface of the skin. Each electrode is positioned near the group of muscles that are to be stimulated. The series of electrodes are in turn connected to some type of power source, usually a control device that makes it possible to adjust the level of current delivered to the patient. As the current is administered, the muscles near the electrodes begin to undergo contractions that last for several seconds, followed by a brief period of relaxation, and the administration of more frequent short periods of contraction.


During the 1980’s, electrical muscle stimulation began to be used by people attempting to tone up the body after undergoing a severe weight loss. The idea was that electrically stimulating the muscles in the lower back, abdomen, thighs, and other sections where a great deal of reduction had taken place would also encourage the skin to tone even as muscle mass was built through regular EMS sessions. Some people reported a great deal of success with this approach to toning the body, while others found the results to be less efficient than using conventional exercise regimens.

There is some evidence that electrical muscle stimulation can help with several health issues. People who find themselves mildly depressed sometimes benefit from regular EMS sessions, as the working of the muscles helps to provide some of the benefits of exercise and help to stimulate a more balanced mood. In like manner, people who feel tired a great deal of the time may find that the muscle stimulation helps to restore energy to the body, as well as make it easier to achieve recuperative sleep.

For many, the real value of electrical muscle stimulation lies in the ability of the process to aid in rehabilitation. The electrical stimulation of various muscle groups can be helpful for someone who has been bedridden for some time, as the process does help to minimize the chances of muscle atrophy from occurring. While EMS is not designed to help with pain, the effect of the current flowing through the muscles is often pleasant and leaves the patient feeling a little stronger, something that can be very important to the overall recuperation process.


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