What Are the Benefits of Electrical Muscle Stimulation?

Electrical muscle stimulation is a process through which low-level electrical currents are used to stimulate muscles, forcing them to contract. According to the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates devices that perform these functions, such devices are often illegally marketed as shortcuts to muscle building and definition. The FDA warns that six-pack abs and similar results are unrealistic, but the devices are regularly used for therapeutic purposes.

The FDA approves electrical muscle stimulation for rehab purposes. (Image: JosT Elias/Hemera/Getty Images)

Muscle Re-education

Muscle re-education through electrical muscle stimulation is used in the early stages of physical rehabilitation following an injury that has either left certain muscles unused for a long period of time, or that has affected the brain. The goals of this treatment are to build basic tone and strength in weakened muscles and to force the contraction of these muscles in a coordinated pattern to strengthen the cognitive link between the brain and the movements. After training with electrical stimulation, physical rehab patients can move on to more strenuous exercises to return muscles to their optimal strength.

Muscle Atrophy

Muscle atrophy is a symptom characterized by decrease in muscle mass. and can occur as a result of numerous medical conditions. Electrical muscle stimulation may be used to slow or prevent the effects of muscle atrophy by keeping weakened muscles active. This use is also FDA-approved.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a painful and sometimes debilitating condition caused by the degradation of joint tissues. According to a clinical study published in the "Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation," electrical muscle stimulation was found to be an effective component of physical therapy for elderly patients who developed hip osteoarthritis after total hip arthroplasty surgery. Also an important benefit for mobility and indepdendence, electrical muscle stimulation can strengthen knee extensor muscles.

Pressure Sore Prevention

Electrical muscle stimulation can effectively reduce the risk of pressure sores in prone patients. Pressure sores are common problems for patients who are bound to wheelchairs, beds and other equipment that results in constant pressure being applied to certain areas of the body. Electrical muscle stimulation can be applied to the gluteus maximus of wheelchair-bound participants. This treatment can produce significant results regarding the maintenance of proper buttock shape and avoidance of deformities, which may be effective in reducing the incidence of pressure sores.

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