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

So your doctor has ordered physical therapy for your injury, and he or she is recommending electrical stimulation. What is electrical stimulation, or e-stim, and how is it used in physical therapy?

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. Different medicines are used to accomplish different goals using iontophoresis.
  • 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 are 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.

E-stim should only be used to augment your active phyiscal therapy program that includes specific motions and exercises to treat your condition.

If you have pain or limited mobility, check in with your physical therapist and see if using electrical stimulation is the right treatment for you and your specific condition.

A Word from Verywell

If you have a condition that results in pain or limited functional mobility, you should check in with your doctor and see your physical therapist. He or she may use e-stim to help augment your rehab program. If so, knowing what electrical stim is and how it is used can help you fully understand your entire rehab program.

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

Also Known As: E-Stim