Apr 23 / Evan Knight

Electrical Muscle Stimulation

Exploring the current evidence on Electrical Muscle Stimulation for Muscular Recovery

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) for muscular recovery

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) is a non-invasive treatment that uses electrical current to induce muscular contractions. This is achieved using a device that produces a current, which is then delivered to the muscles through electrodes placed on the skin, above the muscle or muscle group of interest. These targeted electrical pulses, mimic the action potential of the signals coming from neurons, thereby causing muscular contraction. By having multiple cycles of pulses, repeated contractions are induced which can improve blood flow and stimulate the neuromuscular architecture (muscle fibres and associated nerves), thereby enhancing muscular function, and aiding in the repair of muscles after injury or intensive training (1,2).

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In addition to the above-mentioned use cases, EMS is used in a complimentary manner with regular training (whether endurance or resistance training), and may further enhance muscle function, more so than if used in isolation - by training muscles to respond more efficiently to the body’s natural electrical impulses (3-6). Importantly, since these involuntary contractions produce similar exercise benefits without much discomfort, EMS has been used extensively to aid in the recovery from muscular injuries, especially when immobile (7,8). 
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In conclusion, the application of EMS needs to be carefully monitored and administered by an exercise professional, as incorrect usage of these devices could potentially lead to skin irritation, burns9 as well as muscle damage10. In addition to this, the duration, intensity, and timing of EMS needs to be carefully considered in order to maximise the benefits and reduce any associated risks. As with any training and recovery methodology, the holistic integration of each methodology into the ‘bigger picture’ is crucial in order to optimise the desired outcome.

For more info on electrical muscle stimulation, and other recovery modalities after exercise, sign up to SSISA Research Digest, and explore our series on The Recovery Pyramid.

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  1. Taylor, T., West, D. J., Howatson, G., Jones, C., Bracken, R. M., Love, T. D., Cook, C. J., Swift, E., Baker, J. S., & Kilduff, L. P. (2015). The impact of neuromuscular electrical stimulation on recovery after intensive, muscle damaging, maximal speed training in professional team sports players. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 18(3), 328–332. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2014.04.0042.
  2. Fu, T., Jiang, L., Peng, Y., Li, Z., Liu, S., Lu, J., ... & Zhang, J. (2020). Electrical muscle stimulation accelerates functional recovery after nerve injury. Neuroscience, 426, 179-188.3.
  3. Marqueste, T., Hug, F., Decherchi, P., & Jammes, Y. (2003). Changes in neuromuscular function after training by functional electrical stimulation. Muscle & Nerve: Official Journal of the American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine, 28(2), 181-188.4.
  4. Matos, F., Amaral, J., Martinez, E., Canário-Lemos, R., Moreira, T., Cavalcante, J., ... & Vilaça-Alves, J. (2022). Changes in muscle thickness after 8 weeks of strength training, electromyostimulation, and both combined in healthy young adults. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(6), 3184.5.
  5. Ludwig, O., Berger, J., Becker, S., Kemmler, W., & Fröhlich, M. (2019). The impact of whole-body electromyostimulation on body posture and trunk muscle strength in untrained persons. 
  6. Frontiers in physiology, 10, 1020.6.     Filipovic, A., Kleinöder, H., Dörmann, U., & Mester, J. (2012). Electromyostimulation—a systematic review of the effects of different electromyostimulation methods on selected strength parameters in trained and elite athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(9), 2600-2614.7.
  7. Seyri, K. M., & Maffiuletti, N. A. (2011). Effect of electromyostimulation training on muscle strength and sports performance. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 70-75.8.
  8. Fossat, G., Baudin, F., Courtes, L., Bobet, S., Dupont, A., Bretagnol, A., ... & Boulain, T. (2018). Effect of in-bed leg cycling and electrical stimulation of the quadriceps on global muscle strength in critically ill adults: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Jama, 320(4), 368-378.9.
  9. Xu, X., Zhang, H., Yan, Y., Wang, J., & Guo, L. (2021). Effects of electrical stimulation on skin surface. Acta mechanica Sinica = Li xue xue bao, 37(12), 1843–1871. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10409-020-01026-210.
  10. Nosaka, K., Aldayel, A., Jubeau, M., & Chen, T. C. (2011). Muscle damage induced by electrical stimulation. European journal of applied physiology, 111(10), 2427–2437. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-011-2086-x
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