Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation: An Effective Tool for Rehabilitation – Matthew Osborn AEP

It is widely recognised that to manage acute or chronic musculoskeletal injuries (such as Osteoarthritis, Tendinopathy etc), resistance training is the ideal form of rehabilitation. Through resistance training, we can learn how to activate and strengthen the muscles that have been deconditioned via injury. Through building muscle mass and improving the signals from the brain to the muscle to activate more efficiently, we can improve function and allow our joints to move efficiently with support and no pain. However in instances such as prolonged immobilisation from surgery (such as a total knee replacement) or a neurological condition that impairs the central nervous system’s ability to send signals to the muscles (such as multiple sclerosis), our muscles may be so deconditioned to the point where we are unable to achieve voluntary activation (the level of neural drive from the central nervous system to produce a given force output from a muscle).

In these instances, an effective tool in retraining the impacted muscle is neuromuscular electrical stimulation. Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (or NMES) is a type of exercise therapy that uses a device that sends electrical impulses to the nerves. When this impulse is sent to the nerves, this causes the muscles to contract.  The primary functions of NMES are to increase strength and mass of the muscle and range of motion of the joint. It is an effective tool to re-educate an individual’s muscle to function and to build strength following surgery or managing a neurological condition.  Neuromuscular stimulation is not only is used for clinical populations but can also be effective for athletes and the general population to build muscle and improve power output and strength for a specific sport. Other benefits include-

  • Significant increase of muscular strength – when combined with dynamic voluntary exercises, specific skills and performance can be improved (such as jumping or improving quad activation in a squat).
  • Improving Neural drive –Resistance training with NMES has shown to enhance the overall activity of a stimulator muscle, as the motor nerves are able to activate more fibres with NMES, which can lead to strength gains, improve function and quality of life for clinical populations.
  • Manage pain and improve recovery – Depending on the software you use, maximal isometric contractions (load placed on the muscle without lengthening or shortening) can be achieved with electrical stimulation which has shown to assist with reductions in pain levels. Furthermore, using stimulation software assists with recovery post workout as it can assist with removing the build-up of waste materials the muscles produced when exercising.

Whether you are an athlete looking to maximise your performance or if you are looking to regain muscle mass and activation post-surgery, Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation is an affect tool to assist with your needs.  For an example of how a neuromuscular stimulator works, follow this link below If you are interested in this type of therapy to assist with your current exercise, it is recommended to see an Accredited Exercise Physiologist who is trained in Neuromuscular stimulation and can incorporate this into your current exercise routine.