Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is a method of muscle recovery that has recently grown in popularity. Once a niche technology used mainly by physical therapists or professional athletes, EMS devices are now sold for personal use and sometimes used in studios during exercise classes.
Research has shown that EMS devices offer benefits when it comes to workout recovery and physical therapy. But if you're considering using an EMS device to help you trim down, keep in mind that there is little evidence linking the technology with any weight-loss benefits, despite the claims made by some manufacturing companies.
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Here's what else you need to know before investing in a device of your own.
What Is EMS and How Does It Work?
Electric muscle stimulators are federally regulated devices most often used in physical therapy. The majority of these stimulators are administered by a health care professional to ensure proper use and safety. But some companies have recently started selling EMS devices to consumers.
Electric muscle stimulation works by attaching equipment to the skin that sends an electric current to specific muscle groups, according to the Arizona Bone and Joint Specialists. This current causes the muscles to contract, relieving discomfort and pain. For athletes, the technology is frequently used to speed muscle fiber repair, cutting down on recovery time.
While EMS is most often used for muscular rehabilitation at the physical therapist's office, some exercise studios have been innovating new uses for the technology. Most recently, EMS has been used during workouts with the idea that it will increase muscular recruitment.
In these workouts, the athlete wears an EMS suit, which is connected to a control panel. Depending on the exercise being performed, the trainer or coach selects the respective muscle group and adjusts the current to increase stimulation of those muscles.
Does Electrostimulation Help With Weight Loss?
To date, there has been little research to show a direct relationship between EMS and weight loss. These devices can temporarily strengthen a muscle but have not been cleared by the FDA for weight loss or girth reduction.
The technology is frequently associated with weight reduction, however, because it is often paired with exercise. EMS devices can increase blood flow, according to a March 2017 study in Open Medicine. Increasing the blood flow to muscles after exercise helps athletes recover faster, and thus train at a high intensity more consistently.
In this way, EMS may help you lose weight as part of an exercise regimen, but it does not necessarily have the same benefit when used alone.
Things to Consider Before Trying EMS
At-home electrical muscle stimulation devices (that have not been cleared by the FDA) can be risky if used improperly. While over-the-counter EMS devices are not necessarily unsafe, the FDA has received reports of pain and shocks, as well as interference with other medical devices (like pacemakers).
Before purchasing this or any OTC device, the FDA recommends considering the potential risks associated with it. It's also always a good idea to consult with your doctor or health care provider before trying any product or device that could affect your health.
Now that you know a little more about the science and purpose behind EMS, be cautious of false advertising. In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission charged three top-selling EMS abdominal belts with promoting false claims — namely, the guarantee of rock-hard abs just by using their product.
The bottom line: While EMS has been proven to help your muscles recover faster after exercise, it's not the magic weight-loss tool that many companies claim.
- FDA: "Electronic Muscle Stimulators"
- Arizona Bone & Joint Specialists: "Benefits of Electric Muscle Stimulation"
- Federal Trade Commission: " FTC Charges Three Top-selling Electronic Abdominal Exercise Belts with Making False Claims"
- Open Medicine: "Effect of Electrical Stimulation on Blood Flow Velocity and Vessel Size"