What is electrical muscle stimulation? How does it work? What does it do? Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is a frequent treatment found in chiropractic and physical therapy offices, and even in many trainer rooms. Many people like the way this treatment feels because it is usually very relaxing, but how is it actually helping your injury?
Electrical muscle stimulation is typically used for two reasons: rehabilitation or therapeutically.
For therapeutic treatment, electrical muscle stimulation is used to increase blood flow around an injured area which in turn decreases inflammation. The increase in blood flow also allows vital nutrients and cells to access the injured area to help with the healing process. The electric impulses also help to decrease spasm in a muscle. Muscle spasm is commonly seen around an injured area, it is the body’s reaction to protect itself from further injury. The body also releases natural pain relievers including endorphins in response to the electrical current.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is similar to electrical muscle stimulation however it has no effect on muscles. It is strictly for the relief of pain. Nerves are overstimulated which decreases their ability to “sense pain” for a temporary period of time. Natural pain relievers including endorphins are also released. EMS and TENS units look very similar to one another, however they perform two different jobs.
For rehabilitation, electrical muscle stimulation can be used to improve strength and motor control, and slow down muscle atrophy in an injured area. When an injured area is immobilized (usually in a cast, splint or brace), EMS is used to stimulate surrounding muscles to slow down or prevent atrophy from disuse. A muscle sometimes forgets how do it’s job after it is injured. EMS re-educates the muscle by causing it to contract and relax and this helps it “remember” to turn on and perform it’s job. You can usually see the muscle contract and relax and this also helps you remember how to do it when EMS is not present.
Some other benefits of EMS include:
- Improved range of motion
- Increased peripheral blood flow. Including arterial, venous and lymphatic flow
- Elimination of edema also known as swelling
- Enhanced tissue repair. Increases mobility of proteins, blood cells and lymphatic flow
Dr. Candice Pollack and Dr. Maxwell Mitchell are Chiropractic Physicians at Advanced Physical Medicine in North Haven, CT.