What are Electrical Stimulation (E-Stim) Techniques and How Can They Help You?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) are two physical therapy techniques that may assist with pain management or muscle contractions. Both types of therapy are classified as Electrical Stimulation or in their abbreviation known as E-Stim techniques.

TENS and EMS units serve different purposes, however, they both operate on the same principle. Both E-Stim techniques involve applying a non-invasive electrical current to specific areas of the body by placing adhesive pads on the skin.

What are the differences between TENS and EMS?

TENS machines are normally used for pain relief by transmitting low voltage electrical signals to your body where this is based on a frequency and intensity that is suitable and tolerable to the user. EMS on the other hand triggers repeated contractions across various muscle groups based on where the adhesive pads are positioned. Similarly to TENS, EMS contractions can be changed in their frequency and intensity where this process is similar to voluntary muscle contractions associated with strength training.

Are they effective?

E-Stim techniques are most effective at working weakened or atrophied muscles, assisting with repair after an injury including surgery or for pain relief. Both TENS and EMS machines can be used in addition to exercise however they cannot replace the benefits that physical activity provides. EMS devices are used to ‘jumpstart’ muscle contractions whereas TENS machines can temporarily ease pain while being used. With these benefits in mind, E-Stim techniques aren’t considered a first-line treatment option, but rather something to consider alongside other interventions.  

Although E-Stim techniques are generally safe to use, you should consult your General Practitioner if you have a pacemaker, defibrillator or are pregnant.