What is Electrical Stimulation?
While it may sound a bit intimidating, electrical stimulation really isn’t at all! When used correctly and provided under the guidance of a licensed and skilled Physical Therapist, electrical stimulation is a safe and efficacious modality that can be used in conjunction with other physical therapy interventions, such exercise and manual therapy.
While individual units and modes of delivery can vary, the standard electrical stimulation device utilizes self-adhesive electrodes placed around the target treatment area on the body. These electrodes are connected via wire leads to the unit, through which electricity can pass and ultimately interact with sensory and/or motor nerves (depending on the type of current utilized).
What is Electrical Stimulation used for in Physical Therapy?
There are several electrical stimulation modes that use different types of currents intended to stimulate different nerves in a variety of specific ways. These include modes such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), interferential, pre-modulated, Russian, and symmetrical or asymmetrical bi-phasic. Don’t let the words confuse you, though. Your Physical Therapist will decide the right one to meet your unique needs.
Our clinic utilizes electrical stimulation in order to provide a variety of beneficial effects, including:
- Improve muscle activation and firing post surgery
- Decrease pain
- Increase local circulation
- Decrease swelling
- Reduce muscle spasm
- Provide biofeedback to improve coordination
- Provide neuromuscular re-education
- Prevent or reverse muscle atrophy (especially after prolonged immobilization, such as a limb being cast as a fracture heals)
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) and Russian stimulation are usually the most commonly used in clinics. The aim of this type of electrical stimulation is to improve specific muscles’ ability to fire. This is usually done following surgery. For example, following an ACL reconstruction or total knee replacement, the quad muscle initially has a more challenging time engaging, or firing. NMES or Russian stimulates this muscle to fire during exercises.
Pain control is also an aim of electrical stimulation in the forms of interferential current (IFC) or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). One way this occurs is through the Gate Control Theory. These types of electrical stimulation ‘distract’ your brain from focusing on the painful stimuli through the use of their electrical currents. If you ever bumped your toe in the middle of the night and rubbed it to make it feel better, that is what IFC and TENS is trying to do, on a basic level.
Electrical stimulation can be used for a variety of conditions including acute sport or auto accident related injuries, repetitive stress injuries, muscle strains, ligaments sprains, and even neurological conditions including stroke.
Your Physical Therapist will ensure that it is an appropriate treatment tool prior to using it. There are some instances where it would not be utilized. Patients who have pacemakers, who are pregnant, have a history of deep vein thrombosis, or have impaired cognition are not appropriate for electrical stimulation use. We avoid using it over the anterior neck, the eyes, areas with damaged skin or decreased sensation.
Does Electrical Muscle Stimulation hurt?
The intensity of the electrical muscle stimulation or sensory nerve stimulation is easily modifiable and ultimately will only be as much as you, the patient, can tolerate. Typically, electrical stimulation will feel tingly or prickly (some patients describe it as a comforting “pins and needles” sensation). Sometimes, as in the case when used for muscle strengthening, the intensity level can be high and somewhat uncomfortable, but it should never cause pain.
Our patients’ comfort, safety, and dignity are the number one priority. For this reason, we’ll ask you to come in comfortable loose-fitting clothes and sturdy shoes when you come to see us for an appointment.
At your initial consultation, expect to be taken through a thorough patient history questionnaire (we’ll ask questions about your current, past, and family medical history) and physical examination. Your Physical Therapist will be able to diagnose your condition and then devise an appropriate treatment plan to meet your unique needs.
If your Physical Therapist decides that electrical stimulation is an appropriate part of your plan of care, he or she will first educate you about the specific modality. You’ll be asked to sit or lie in a comfortable position, your skin in the target treatment area will be cleaned and prepped, and your Physical Therapist will guide you step-by-step through the entire treatment. Our physical therapy services, including electrical stimulation and other modalities, are evidence-based, state-of-the-art, effective, and have minimal to no risk of side effects. Come experience the difference and contact The FIT Institute (TFI) today in Chicago, North Center, Lincoln Square, Lincoln Park, Roscoe Village, IL to schedule an initial appointment.