Electronic muscle stimulators, or EMS stimulators, are electrical muscle stimulation devices designed to safely cause muscles to contract with electric pulses. Generating the impulses through electrode pads placed in specific places on the skin, the electrical impulses from the electronic muscle stimulator essentially mimic the same impulses generated by the central nervous system. One of the earlier forms of electrotherapy, electronic muscle stimulation is commonly used for muscle training and rehabilitation, and is commonly used by athletes, trainers, coaches, and physical therapists.
Electronic muscle stimulators are used for both training and therapeutic purposes. In the medical field, EMS stimulators are used for rehabilitation of muscles, such as when a patient suffers a musculoskeletal injury and there is concern for disuse muscle atrophy. EMS should not be confused with TENS Therapy, or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, in which electrical impulses are used to stimulate nerves for relief of acute or chronic pain. Electronic muscles stimulators are commonly used immediately after surgery to stimulate calf muscles in an effort to prevent venous thrombosis, and are also used for increasing circulation, muscle re-education, and increasing or maintaining range of motion.
In addition to muscle recovery and prevention of atrophy, electronic muscle stimulators are used as a training tool. Some use electronic muscle stimulators to target specific muscle groups for aesthetic purposes. While devices such as the Slendertone and other EMS abdominal belts are effective for specific muscle toning, they are not able to provide enough of a caloric burn to be considered a fat burning or weight loss device. The amount of calories burned by an electronic muscle stimulator is marginal at best, and to effectively burn calories, the body must be engaged in physical exercise where several muscles, the heart, and the respiratory system are all working. EMS stimulators are not meant to burn fat or calories, but to target specific muscle groups for specific training goals. Many professional level athletes and coaches use the devices to supplement their training regimen and help speed up the recovery process. Electronic muscle stimulators are also commonly used to increase or maintain range of motion.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has certified EMS devices as either over-the-counter or prescription devices, and has recognized that electronic muscle stimulators used for medical purposes should be used under supervision of an authorized practitioner, such as a doctor or therapist. The FDA recognizes EMS stimulators as being used for:
Because EMS stimulators generate an electric current through the skin, they should not be used:
Some patients may have bad skin reactions to the EMS electrode pads, and burns may occur when the device is used improperly. Be sure to check with doctor or therapist to make sure that use of an electronic muscle stimulator is right for you.