Electric Muscle Stimulator

More Than Just Pain Relief

By: - Medicine - July 8, 2011
electric muscle stimulator more than just pain relief

An electric muscle stimulator or EMS is known by at least two scientific names, including the elecromyostimulator and the neuromuscular electrical stimulator, which causes muscles to contract based on virtually painless electrical impulses.  Machines that do this come in varied sizes and formats, some of which are used in hospitals and homes for varied purposes.  In fact, electric muscle stimulators have been around for decades, offering a unique way to cause an imitation of the action potential that would be distributed by the central nervous system of the brain to make muscles contract.  So, how does this all work?

Electric muscle stimulators use electrodes that are fitted into pads that somewhat resemble those used for heart monitoring.  They are attached to the area where the muscle to be contracted is located using a conductive gel, which helps make the electricity flow through faster into the muscle as if imitating the human brain.  Even back in the late 18th century, evidence was presented that such electrical stimulation of muscles was possible, but it was not until the 20th  century that this theory was finally put into practice.  Most interestingly, the finding done by 1960s scientists in the area of sports in the former Soviet Union, showed that long-term use of such stimulation could cause changes to the muscles because of the bodily functions that were induced.  By the 70s, the electric muscle stimulator was better understood, clearly showing that the electrical impulses caused the nerves, blood vessels and muscle cells to adapt.

Theoretically, electric muscle stimulators train muscle fibers, particularly those of the skeletal variety.  However, as muscle contains varied types of fibers, each one could be stimulated using a different type of electric muscle stimulator each time.  As such, modifications to the muscle fibers could be varied by different electrical activities.  It was found that some electrical impulses would force the formation of new muscle, whereas other types could benefit endurance.  However, sports is not the only area in which these machines are used.  In the medical field they are used for physical therapy to prevent further damage to tendons, ligaments, muscles, joints and bones due the atrophy that can occur when muscles are not used, especially after injury to the musculoskeletal system.  It is also used for assisting with reducing pain, though the response of people in pain is not guaranteed to work.  Best of all, for those of us who have gained a bit of extra fat that we do not want, the electrical stimulations of the muscles can burn calories if combined with a complete exercise and diet program; and only when multiple muscles are stimulated at the same time and the respiratory system and heart are fully engaged in tandem with the muscle action.  Generally, such muscle stimulations are only allowed for safe use if they are being used additionally for the following:

Increasing and maintaining motion range
The prevention of venous thrombosis in calf muscles after surgery
The re-education of muscles
The increase of immediate circulation of the blood
The prevention of atrophy
Muscles massage
Muscle relaxation

Photo: varied muscles – public domain photo – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Illu_muscle_tissues.jpg

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