What is Electronic Stimulation?

People often head into a doctor’s office or physical therapy and hear the words electronic stimulation. If they have never heard those words before in this type of setting, they may be wondering, “What is electronic stimulation?”. This is a common response and leads us to share exactly what electronic stimulation really is and how it can benefit you.

What is Electronic Stimulation?

Electronic stimulation is a type of physical therapy that teaches your muscles how to contract. The electronic stimulator sends electrical pulses to the muscles, causing them to contract. The pulses can also be sent to the nerves. Those electrical pulses are designed to replicate the signals that would normally come from the neurons within your nervous system.

A lot of times when muscles are damaged, they stop receiving those neurons. When that happens, your muscles stop contracting. Those fewer contractions limit the blood flow, weaken the muscles, and can cause greater pain.

The goal of electronic stimulation is to retrain muscles to contract, block pain receptors, and to repair injured muscles.

Different Types of Electronic Stimulation

There are a few different types of electronic stimulation. The two main types are TENS units and EMS. Other electronic stimulation may be considered if those two types do not work.

TENS Units                                                      

TENS units are used for both short-term and long-term pain. During this type of electronic stimulation, electrodes are placed on the skin near where pain is felt. Electrical pulses are sent from the unit through the electrodes to the nearby nerves.

The electrical pulses are designed to block, or at least reduce the amount of pain signals being sent back to your brain.

You can find many electronic stimulator reviews online if you are told to get one of these devices to use at home.


The EMS unit is slightly stronger than TENS units. Electrodes are placed on the skin in the same way. However, rhythmic contractions are sent through the electrodes. Those contractions are designed to improve muscle strength, as long as you contract the muscle at the same time the contractions are being sent.

Other types of electronic stimulation, or e-stim, includes:

  • Interferential Current (IFC) – Nerves are stimulated to reduce pain levels.
  • Electrical Stimulation for Tissue Repair (ESTR) – Stimulation that increases circulation, reduces swelling, and speeds up the healing of wounds.
  • Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) – The nerves within the muscles are stimulated to restore both strength and function, while reducing muscle spasms and preventing muscle atrophy.
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) – A device is implanted to relieve pain.
  • Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) – A device is implanted to provide long-term muscle stimulation to preserve motor skills and function.
  • Iontophoresis – Delivers ionically charged medications to the tissues for faster healing.

What Does Electronic Stimulation Feel Like?

If you have never had electronic stimulation before, you may be wondering what it feels like. Well, once the current goes through the electrodes, the designated area will tingle. It may feel like you have pins and needles.

Your muscles may twitch or contract, but this is dependent on the type of electronic stimulation and how high the level is set.

Electronic stimulation session normally last between five and fifteen minutes. If you are just starting this treatment, it will be on the shorter side. Anyone who has been receiving e-stim for a while will normally experience the longer sessions for the best results.

What Medical Conditions Does Electronic Stimulation Treat?

Electronic stimulation can be used to treat many medical conditions. The list we are sharing is not extensive. However, it does include the main conditions electronic stimulation can be helpful with.

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Joint Pain
  • Back Pain
  • Cancer-Related Pain
  • Arthritis
  • Dysphagia
  • Muscle Conditioning
  • Poor Muscle Strength
  • Muscle Injury from Disease or Trauma
  • Nerve Inflammation
  • Stroke
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Urinary Incontinence
  • Surgery Recovery

Benefits of Electronic Stimulation

There are many benefits of adding electronic stimulation to a physical therapy regime. The main benefits include:

Quicker Recovery

Since blood flow increases during the use of electronic stimulation, the recovery process is quicker. More muscle contractions can improve movement and allow your muscles to build strength. This will allow you to get back to your normal physical activities in a shorter period of time.

Prevents Muscle Atrophy

Muscles can weaken rather quickly when they are not being used. Stimulating the muscles, and allowing them to contract, will keep your muscles active. This means they won’t atrophy as quickly as they would if you were simply sitting around and doing nothing.

Relaxing Qualities

Sitting down during e-stim treatments can be quite relaxing for many people. Tension in the muscles is released, similar to what would happen during a massage. Increased blood flow will relieve pain. And extra endorphins are produced, which will improve your mood.

Better Athletic Performance

Electronic stimulation is used by athletes to improve their performance. Regular e-stim sessions reduce pain, limit swelling, and prevents injuries.

Risks of Electronic Stimulation

There are very few risks with electronic stimulation. The main risk is irritation on the skin where the electrodes are placed. The irritation is normally slight and goes away shortly after the session.

Anyone with a pacemaker or another implantable device should not have electronic stimulation. Doing e-stim can be quite dangerous for those people.

Electronic stimulation is also not recommended for pregnant women.

This type of physical therapy is not supposed to hurt in any way. If at any time you feel pain during an electronic stimulation session, you must alert your therapist immediately. They can make adjustments if the electrical pulses are too high. Or they can stop if they feel you have an underlying condition that the e-stim could be making worse. Everyone can benefit from adding electronic stimulation to their therapy routine for different medical conditions. This type of treatment is designed to reduce pain, which can be helpful during the recovery process. If you have ever wondered, “What is electronic stimulation?”, you now know the answer. And if you are experiencing any pain, talk to your doctor about adding this type of treatment. The results can be life-changing.

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