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What to Know About Electrical Myostimulation

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 29, 2021

Electrical myostimulation is the use of electric currents to enhance muscle function. This type of therapy is called electrotherapy. It helps to strengthen and stimulate the recovery of muscles after injury.‌‌

In electrical myostimulation, electrodes are attached to the skin over the muscles, and a current is run from a battery to the muscle. This causes a muscle contraction and, if repeated regularly, may increase muscle strength. ‌

In general, three different types of electric currents are used in electrical muscle stimulation: direct current (galvanic), alternating current (biphasic), and pulsed current (pulsed AC and DC). The different types of currents may be used for slightly different purposes in electrotherapy.

How Electrical Myostimulation Affects Your Muscles

Physical exercise is crucial to building strength. However, used alone, it has limits. Electrical myostimulation helps elite athletes to boost their muscle strength and power. This increases the endurance and physical working capacity of their muscles. Electrical myostimulation also improves the flexion of foot muscles.‌‌

Electrical myostimulation may increase muscle mass after an injury, promoting healing. You can see gains of about 1% in muscle mass and a boost of 10% to 15% in muscle function within five to six weeks of undergoing therapy. For the best results, you should do three or more treatment sessions in a week. The intensity of these sessions can be adjusted according to your tolerance levels.

Benefits of Electrical Myostimulation

Electrical myostimulation for people with diabetes. Electrical myostimulation increases the metabolism of glucose in the body. This means that it is useful for people with type two diabetes mellitus. It may help them to metabolize sugars more efficiently and enhance their functional performance.‌

Electrical myostimulation for people with heart failure. Electrotherapy also helps people with chronic heart failure to improve their exercise capacity. It can be used as a replacement for physical exercise during heart failure management. Electrical myostimulation may be used to stimulate the heart and lungs in the same way that physical exercise does. People with chronic heart failure can get the same benefits from electrotherapy as from exercise training.

Electrical myostimulation for older people. With age comes medical issues like muscle degeneration. Many studies have tried to find tools and types of medication that maintain muscle mass and function in aging individuals. Protein or diet supplements and exercise are possible solutions to muscle degeneration. Methods like these work less well for individuals with mobility issues or anabolic resistance, though.‌

No drug can safely and effectively prevent muscle degeneration, but electrical myostimulation therapy sessions are a fast, safe, and comfortable option for people who are trying to achieve this. Electrotherapy poses no risk of joint injury, making it a good alternative to physical exercise for elderly people.‌

Electrical myostimulation helps to improve the regeneration of muscle cells. Studies show that it's better at this than exercise training is. Despite the effectiveness of this type of therapy, you should not use it to replace physical exercise. Physical exercise not only increases muscle mass but is also beneficial for many of the body’s functions. ‌

In addition to being a suitable option for people with diabetes or heart failure, electrical myostimulation helps to manage the loss of muscle mass and muscle function in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart disease, or end-stage renal disease.

Is Electrotherapy Suitable for Everyone?

Although electrotherapy has many benefits, the procedure is not suitable for everyone. You should not undergo electrotherapy if you are pregnant or if you have a medical implant (such as a heart pacemaker, a bone growth stimulator, or a neurostimulator). Electrotherapy is also unsuitable if you have any of the following conditions:‌

  • epilepsy
  • thrombosis
  • hemorrhage
  • infections (tuberculosis, osteomyelitis)
  • cancer‌

Electrotherapy should also not be used on the eyes, on damaged skin, or around the reproductive organs. 

Other Types of Electrotherapy and Their Uses

As mentioned, electrical myostimulation is just one type of electrotherapy. The technique has been around for centuries. There are many different types of electrotherapy: High tone external muscle stimulation, spinal cord stimulation, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation are some of the types that are in use today. These types of electrotherapy are used mainly to manage pain.‌‌

Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation are effective for managing moderate and mild levels of pain. Spinal cord stimulation is used to treat persistent pain and ischemic limb pain. High tone external muscle stimulation is used to provide pain relief in the management of peripheral neuropathy for people who have diabetes or end-stage renal disease.

Show Sources

SOURCES:‌

Clinical Nephrology: "Neuromuscular electrostimulation techniques: historical aspects and current possibilities in treatment of pain and muscle wasting."‌

Diabetes Technology & Therapeutics: "Electrical Myostimulation (EMS) Improves Glucose Metabolism and Oxygen Uptake in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients--Results from the EMS Study."

Foundations of Electrical Stimulation: "Three Major Types of Current Used in Electrical Stimulation (estim)." ‌

International Journal of Gerontology: "Efficacy and Safety of Electrical Myostimulation for Sedentary Elderly People at Risk of Primary Sarcopenia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."‌

Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle: "Electromyostimulation to fight atrophy and to build muscle: facts and numbers."

Journal of Clinical & Experimental Cardiology: "Electrical Muscle Stimulation for Heart Failure: where do we stand?"‌

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: "Effect of Electrical Myostimulation on the Function of Lower Leg Muscles."

University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics: "BEsT TENS Precautions and Contraindications Decision Making." 

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