Electrical Stimulation

Electrical muscle stimulation, rebahilitation. Policlinica Gipuzkoa, San Sebastian, Donostia, Euskadi, Spain
Your physical therapist can use electrical stimulation for various tasks. Javier Larrea/Age Fotostock/Getty Images

Electrical stimulation is a type of physical therapy modality used to accomplish various tasks in physical therapy. If you have an injury or illness that causes pain or limited functional mobility, your PT may use electrical stimulation, or E-stim, as one part of your rehbaiblition program.

Your physical therapist will use different types of electrical stimulation to accomplish different tasks. These may include:

  • TENS: Transcutaneus electrical neuromuscular stimulation (TENS) is a physical therapy modality used to manage acute and chronic pain in physical therapy. Your PT will use TENS to decrease your pain by applying electrodes to your body over painful areas. The intensity of the electricity will be adjusted to block the painful signals traveling from your body to your brain.
  • Iontophoresis: Iontophoresis is a type of electrical stimulation that is used to help administer medication to you in physical therapy. The electrical current pushes various medication in through your skin and into your body. Your PT will likely use medicine to decrease inflammation or muscle spasm, or Iontophoresis drugs can be used to break up calcium deposits that may occur in conditions like shoulder calcific tendonitis.
  • Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES): NMES uses an electrical current to cause a single muscle or a group of muscles to contract. By placing electrodes on the skin in various locations the physical therapist can recruit the appropriate muscle fibersContracting the muscle via electrical stimulation helps improve the way your affected muscle contracts. The physical therapist can change the current setting to allow for a forceful or gentle muscle contraction. Along with increasing muscle function, the contraction of the muscle also promotes blood flow to the area that assists in healing. NMES can also be used to help decrease muscular spasm by artificially tiring your muscle in spasm, allowing it to relax.
  • Russian stimulation: Russian stimulation is a form of electrical stimulation that can accomplish a similar task as NMES: to improve the way your muscles contract. Russian stim simply uses a different wave form that may be a little more comfortable for you to tolerate.
  • Interferential current: Interferrnetial current (IFC) is often used by physical therapists to decrease pain, decrease muscular spasm, or improve localized blood flow to various muscles or tissues. It is often used to decrease low back pain and muscular spasm. Interferrnetial current typically uses 4 electrodes in a crisscross pattern. This causes the currents running between the electrodes to "interfere" with one another, and allows your PT to use a higher intensity current while still maintaining maximum comfort for you.

    Remmeber, many forms of electrical stimulation is a passive treatment; you are doing nothing while receiving the stimulation. Other forms, like NMES and Russian stim, require that you are active while the E-stim is in use.

    Electrical stimulation should never be the only treatment you receive during physical therapy. Research indicates that active engagement in your physical therapy program - with or without electrical stimulation - yields the best results.

    Edited by Brett Sears, PT, the About.com Physical Therapy Expert. Be sure to join in the PT conversation by following Brett on Twitter!

    Also Known As: E Stim

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