AUTOR: Francisco Barrios Marco, Fisioterapeuta
What uses does electro stimulation have?
Electro stimulation has been used for years as a treatment for medical conditions related with the loss of muscle strength.
The technique was found not only to have a stabilizing effect on muscle tissue, but also improved muscle strength. It was inevitable that it would become part of sports performance training.
Nowadays, it is used as an effective way to treat muscle atrophy in cases where muscle has been affected by a neurological problem for example a hemiplegia or injury. It can also be used after an operation on cartilage or ACL reconstruction.
What is electro stimulation?
Electro stimulation can be used in the following ways; to treat injuries, prevent injury and to improve athletic performance. By using a small amount of generated energy it mimics the action coming from the central nervous system, causing the muscles to contract.
Electro stimulation offers us many more possibilities, by altering the frequency, impulse length and intensity we manage to stimulate fibres which would be otherwise impossible.
The physiotherapist, athlete and coach have this effective tool for development at their disposal.
What is an electro stimulation device?
The device can be used for many purposes, to produce a relaxing effect for pain relief, a training tool to develop strength and build muscle volume and to work specific muscles to improve speed and resistance. These results will depend on the kind of device because the current it generates will determine the intensity, frequency, programme, pulse length and rest period amongst other factors.
Why is electro stimulation not used more in sport?
The effectiveness of the devices for sports devices has been clearly demonstrated in scientific research, but is not as yet a fully extended practice in the sports world. The technique is used in the professional field and less in the amateur, one of the main reasons being that advertisers have tended to inflate the truth about these miracle machines. Claims that we can achieve an amazing body shape with very little work or time prove unconvincing. Indeed they have the opposite effect amongst those who know that it is only with time and effort that we achieve results. Electro stimulation requires time and planning and can prove very effective when used properly.
What kinds of devices are available on the market? Which one could be of use to me?
There are many different electro stimulation devices out on the market. In the past only TENS machines were available, electro stimulation devices for the beauty industry to treat cellulite and buttocks, or devices designed for sport. Nowadays, devices incorporate all these uses, so why not purchase one which serves all these purposes.
What kind of currents does an electro stimulator device use?
Modern day device use a symmetric biphasic current thus avoiding the chemical burns that devices in the past caused.
Photographs depicting the position the positive and negative electrodes are placed are no longer relevant. The symmetric biphasic current works by applying an alternating negative pulse in one electrode and a positive pulse in the other and constantly inverts the pole, compensating the pole effect and avoiding burns.
Are there any side effects?
Low frequency electro stimulation has some side effects, manufacturers explain clearly in the device instruction manual when use of the device is not recommended, and here are some of the most important;
► The device should not be used on or around the abdomen of pregnant women.
► It should not be used on people fitted with a pace maker.
► It should not be used on children.
► Do not use on patients with active thrombophlebitis and thrombosis
► Do not use if use if in a febrile state.
► Do not use if bleeding or close to wounds.
► Do not use on patients suffering from epilepsy, hypersensitivity or tumors.
The list is longer and we here have indicated the most important. We strongly advise reading the instruction manual carefully.
In what way is electro stimulation useful for an athlete?
Electro stimulation is a new technique in improving sport performance, adapting the current to the specific needs of the individual athlete whether training or recovering.
It allows us work the muscle fibers when we want, improves explosive strength, speed and resistance by utilizing specific programmes without risk of injury. Even when suffering from an injury we can use the device at home on other muscles.
The intense load that neuromuscular electro stimulation allows us to take on does not suppose psychological exhaustion.
It improves local circulation and helps relaxation.
Is electro stimulation natural?
By using electro stimulation we deliver an electric impulse to the motor neuron tissue causing the muscle to contract, it is the neuron that generates the contraction.
Normally it is the brain that generates an electric impulse which once transmitted to the motor neuron generates the contraction. The difference between the two being that in one case the electro stimulator generates the impulse and in the other it is the brain, in both cases it is the motor neuron that transmits to the impulse to the muscle.
If we consider that natural means the whole process is controlled by our body then we can’t consider electro stimulation natural. But if we consider that the contraction is produced by the motor neuron then it is a natural process.
In the same way, if we consider natural being something which comes exclusively from nature and has not been manipulated by man or machine, then no “natural” product actually exists.
What is electro stimulation used for?
Electro stimulation can be used in different ways, to treat pain, for the treatment of musculoskeletal injuries, for esthetic use to improve physical appearance using lipolysis and increase muscle tone with programmes specifically designed for this use. Electro stimulation is used in sport to achieve better overall performance by improving resistance, speed and explosive energy.
Can it be useful when combined with conventional methods?
Electro stimulation is even more effective when combined with conventional training methods. The two are complementary, by using electro stimulation we are able to increase load, implicate more muscle fiber which in conventional training would not be possible and combine it with technique that we have perfected in conventional training.
What are the most important advantages of an electro stimulation device?
The main advantage would be the amount of time it saves; we can do intensive muscle training in the comfort of our own home.
We should also highlight that the devices are light, portable and efficient in strength development and that the majority of them have recovery, circulation and relax programmes which help towards a quicker adaptation to effort and lower stress levels.
How long should a session with the electro stimulator last?
We recommend training for around an hour a day. Work out a regime of six sessions a week with the work shared equally between the upper and lower body. For example, Monday, Wednesday and Friday upper body and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday lower body could work well for overall body work. We should consult a specialist, to guide us on how to improve performance if we need to train for a specific sport.We can increase the time and regularity of training, without overloading ourselves, if a electro stimulation specialist recommends it.