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What is Electronic Muscle Stimulation (EMS)?

Electronic muscle stimulation (EMS), also called Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation is a process by which the muscle tone is restored in people who are undergoing physical therapy, and it also helps in muscle toning, weight reduction, body fat minimization and improves blood circulation.

People who are not in condition to perform traditional exercise can develop their muscle tone with the aid of electrical muscle contraction.

How It Works

The electronic muscle stimulation works by using an electrical source to induce the nerve fibers and it conducts small voltage, safe current to the muscle from the machine.

Self adhesive electrodes are placed on the desired muscle’s motor points and the rubber contact pad tightens when the electrical energy is passed through them. The dial is adjusted until the person feels the tingling of the current that passes through his or her muscle.

The stimulation that is applied induces the brain to pass on an impulse to the motor points, which causes the contraction and relaxation of muscles. The applied current varies, so that it imitates the effects of traditional exercise.

Origin of EMS

The first scientific evidence that current can activate muscles was provided by Luigi Galvani in 1791.

Researchers of the 19th and 20th centuries discovered that the body functions induced by electrical stimulation can cause long-term changes in the muscles. Electronic muscle stimulator is a product derived from the square waveform, which was originally invented by John Faraday in 1831.

Through the square wave pattern EMS is able to work directly on muscle motor neurons. Soviet Union was the first user of electronic muscle stimulator on its elite Olympic athletes.

Experiments in electro-therapy have been done for a very long time, since Aetius, a Greek physician, prescribed a form of shock generated by a fish to treat gout. In 1780, Galvani, a professor at the University of Bologna, observed the twitching of a frog’s leg muscles under electric influence.

During the 1800s, doctors used EMS to cure a variety of illnesses and Dr. Golding Bird began to study the effects of electric charges on human muscle tissue. In the 1960s, R Melzack and P. Wall proved that EMS can be effectively used to cure pain.

Various types of currents have been used to stimulate muscles and nerves, and a few of them are:

  • Galvanic
  • Alternative
  • Faradic
  • Pulsative
  • Rectangular pulse
  • Interferential

Normal Working of Muscles

In normal conditions, the strength and tone of muscles are developed by regular exercises. During this process, a signal is sent from the brain to the muscle nerves through the spinal cord to expand and relax.

The muscle tissues begin to break down with the expansion and contraction of the muscle tissues. Once the muscle contraction is stopped, the muscle tissue starts to build up.

The Working of Muscles Using EMS

Electronic muscle stimulator stimulates the muscle nerves electrically by sending low level electronic pulses.

When the muscle nerves get stimulated, they automatically start to expand and relax, and this is similar to contractions during conventional exercise.

This aspect of EMS has been applied in devices used for toning and firmingĀ  abdominal muscles – abdominal belts.

In addition to this popular use, people whose health condition hinders them to perform traditional exercise can strengthen their muscle mass through this method.

Therapeutic Uses of EMS

Majority of electronic muscle stimulators are used by therapists to treat medical problems, physical therapy and rehabilitation by health care providers.

It is used to progress the rehabilitation of certain types of injuries, broken arms and legs. It is also used as a treatment for muscle spasms, bursitis and low back pain.

EMS is used to retrain muscles in stroke victims and to preserve muscles which cannot function normally. EMS has been used for:

  • Muscle re-education
  • Development and increase of muscle tone and strength
  • Improvement of local blood circulation
  • Relaxation of muscular spasms
  • Maintenance or improvement of range of motion
  • Prevention of muscle atrophy.

Is EMS Approved Clinically?

Although consistent use of electronic muscle stimulation can firm and tone muscles, in general it is not approved by the FDA as a safer way to lose weight and to develop flat abs.

However, the FDA certifies and releases two categories of EMS devices: over the counter devices and prescription devices.

Over-the-counter devices are used only for muscle toning (for example, the Flex Belt), and the prescription devices can be bought only with a medical prescription to be used by authorized medical practitioners. Consumer EMS devices that make unsubstantiated claims have been removed from the market by the FTC.