Specialising in musculoskeletal, orthopaedic, spinal and sports rehabilitation

What is Electrical Muscle Stimulation?

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is used at Marylebone Physiotherapy & Sports Medicine and this is a Blog about why and how we use it to help optimise your recovery after an injury.

EMS is a type of Electro-therapy which stimulates a muscle contraction using electrical impulses in order strengthen weak muscles, reduce swelling, relieve pain and help optimise tissue heal wound healing.

The impulses are generated by our COMPEX 8.0 device and are delivered through electrodes (pads that adhere to the skin) over the middle of the muscles that require stimulating.

The impulses from EMS mimic the action potential (stimulus required to make the muscle contract) coming from the central nervous system. This  causes the muscle to contract and bypasses the brain’s conscious control of muscle activation. This can feel a little unnerving the first time you have muscle stimulation.

EMS therapy creates steady electric impulses that stimulate muscle contractions–many of them over a sustained therapy session.

This repetitive contracting and relaxing of the muscle has the beneficial effects of:

  • Increasing circulation (blood flow) to the affected tissue area, which aids in repair.
  • improving strength by flexing and working weakened muscles.
  • slowing the process of muscle atrophy by strengthening weakened or unused muscles.
  • adapting, training and “educating” the mind-muscle connection and muscle fibers to certain patterns of response (e.g., contracts the fibers that are responsible for force, which results in building strength).

There are several uses for EMS which include:

Pain relief.
EMS can be used at low levels to reduce the amount of pain you experience. This can be done by modulating the amount of pain signals to the brain or releasing natural pain-killers called endorphins.

Muscle contraction.
EMS can be used at different intensities to stimulate a muscle or help maintain muscle tone. Examples of this type of therapy include:
Following a stroke, EMS can be used to maintain some muscle tone in the shoulder to improve function and reduce pain.
To treat urinary incontinence, EMS may be used to contract the pelvic floor muscles.

Following surgery

EMS can be used to stimulate the muscles in the thigh to increase strength.

Benefits of EMS include:

  • Decreasing pain
  • Promote tissue healing
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Maintaining and regaining muscle activity – particularly post surgerical or post injury

Here are some examples of this

If you’ve torn an Achilles tendon, the muscles in your calf and foot may become atrophied from wearing a boot to immobilize the ankle, or from changing your gait to favor the injured ankle.

If you have a shoulder injury (e.g., a rotator cuff tear or impingement), resting, immobilizing, or favoring the shoulder may cause the muscles in and around that shoulder to weaken.

If you have neuromuscular dysfunction or a neuromuscular disorder (such as muscular dystrophy), muscles throughout the body may weaken progressively; EMS can help to slow this progression and improve motor control.


If you have never had EMS before what can you expect?

The first time you have EMS you will be surprised at how bizarre the experience is, as your muscles will start to tingle, then shake without your conscious control it can be a little bit daunting.

The first time EMS contracts your muscles using the Resistance or Strength Protocol this is even stranger as the Physio in charge of your care slowly gets you used to having your muscles contracted externally. It begins with a low buzzing sensation followed by the muscle actually contracting, then cycling with a tapping sensation. As you get more used to the experience, the muscle activation can be slowly increased and the cramping sensation is avoided 

The next phase is to perform movement with the Muscle Contraction. This could be a knee extension in sitting to stimulate the Quadriceps. Or, this might be a Squat where you have to overcome the resistance of the muscle contraction.

Your Physio can use the EMS in any number of ways depending on your unique treatment goals.

So, there you have it. Marylebone Physiotherapy and Sports Medicine remains up to date with the latest technology and cutting edge devices to take you from pain to performance.

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