Electronic muscle stimulation, or EMS, machines use low-voltage pulses to stimulate motor nerves that cause muscles to contract. Medical facilities use these machines to treat pain, relax and strengthen muscles, and increase blood circulation. The machines are also available to consumers as fitness and body-building machines.
Range of Motion
EMS machines are often beneficial for people who suffer a reduced range of motion in their shoulders, knees or backs because of fractures or operations. The EMS therapy helps stimulate muscles and either maintain or increase the amount of movement in the affected areas. Most of the devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are designed for health care professionals to utilize in physical therapy or rehabilitation.
Muscle Disuse Atrophy and Muscle Reeducation
When you do not use certain muscles for long periods of time, they can lose tone and begin to atrophy. The electrical stimulation of EMS machines can help to contract and strengthen muscles to prevent disuse atrophy. When muscles have begun to atrophy, EMS in conjunction with exercise may help speed the strengthening of atrophied muscles.
Cramping and muscle spasms, which occur when muscles remain contracted, may cause tremendous pain. The FDA states that electrical stimulation can help in these cases by working to relax the muscles. The EMS machines actually stimulate the muscle to the point of fatigue to combat the spastic condition.
The medical device company Ib3Health reports on its website that the rhythmic muscle contractions triggered by EMS machines can be helpful in increasing blood circulation. As blood circulation improves, areas that are swollen or tender may begin to improve. In addition, the machines are sometimes beneficial after surgery to stimulate calf muscles and prevent venous thrombosis.
You can easily find ads touting EMS machines as a way to get fit, develop six-pack abs or build muscle. The FDA reports, however, that it has not approved any EMS devices for "weight loss, girth reduction or for obtaining 'rock hard' abs." The FDA also notes that EMS machines may temporarily strengthen a muscle, but you won't see any major changes in your appearance unless you also diet and get regular exercise.