Neck Pain

The Science Behind Electrical Muscle Stimulation

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Can incorporating electrical muscle stimulation help control pain, strengthen muscles, increase physical function, retrain lost movements, and/or manage inflammation for individuals experiencing neck and back pain?

Female doctor placing myostimulation physical therapy equipment on patient’s back

Electric Muscle Stimulation

Electrical muscle stimulation or E-stim is a physical therapy used to reactivate the muscles’ ability to contract. E-stim uses devices that transmit electrical impulses through the skin to target nerves and/or muscles. The most common forms include

  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation, or TENS, is the most well-known type of electrical stimulation that offers devices that can be used at home or on the go.
  • Electrical muscle stimulation or EMS.
  • In physical therapy, E-stim stimulates muscles to contract, strengthening them and encouraging blood circulation.
  • Blood circulation can directly affect the condition of muscle tissue.
  • Electrical muscle stimulation is also used in spinal cord injury and other neuromuscular conditions. (Ho, C. H. et al., 2014)

E-stim

During treatment, electrodes are hooked to an electric stimulation machine and placed around the affected neck or back area.

  • The electrodes will be placed on the skin for most neck or back injuries.
  • The placement of the electrodes depends on the reason for treatment and the depth or superficiality of the electrical stimulation.
  • The electrodes are often placed near a motor point of a muscle to ensure the correct contraction.
  • The therapist will adjust the controls of the stimulation machine to achieve thorough muscle contraction with minimal discomfort.
  • Stimulation can last 5 – 15 minutes, depending on the treatment plan and injury severity.

Spinal Joint Stabilization

Activation of the muscles may help increase spinal joint stability, improving problems with spinal instability. (Ho, C. H. et al., 2014) Electric muscle stimulation is thought to enhance the exercise program a therapist prescribes to help maintain joint stability. Electrical stimulation may also help build muscle strength and endurance. (Veldman, M. P. et al., 2016) Muscle endurance is the repetitions a muscle can contract before it fatigues.

Healing and Pain Management

Electric muscle stimulation therapy can enhance tissue healing and help manage inflammation by reducing swelling and increasing circulation. It can reduce pain sensations by blocking nerve transmission at the spinal cord. (Johnson, M. I. et al., 2019) A healthcare professional may suggest a TENS or take-home electric stimulation unit to manage symptoms. (Johnson, M. I. et al., 2019)

Treatment

Interdisciplinary therapies tailored to an individual’s specific back or neck pain have been found to provide positive results. Exercise, yoga, short-term cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, progressive relaxation, massage, manual therapy, and acupuncture are recommended for neck or back pain. (Chou, R. et al., 2018) Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications may also help. Electrical muscle stimulation could be an effective neck or back treatment.

Individuals unsure whether they need or would benefit from electrical should discuss symptoms and conditions with a primary physician, healthcare provider, or specialist to guide them in the right direction and determine the best treatment. Injury Medical Chiropractic and Functional Medicine Clinic focuses on what works for the patient and strives to better the body through researched methods and total wellness programs. Using an integrated approach, we treat injuries and chronic pain syndromes through personalized care plans that improve ability through flexibility, mobility, and agility programs personalized to the individual to relieve pain. If other treatment is needed, Dr. Jimenez has teamed up with the top surgeons, clinical specialists, medical researchers, and premier rehabilitation providers to provide the most effective treatments.


Thoracic Spine Pain


References

Ho, C. H., Triolo, R. J., Elias, A. L., Kilgore, K. L., DiMarco, A. F., Bogie, K., Vette, A. H., Audu, M. L., Kobetic, R., Chang, S. R., Chan, K. M., Dukelow, S., Bourbeau, D. J., Brose, S. W., Gustafson, K. J., Kiss, Z. H., & Mushahwar, V. K. (2014). Functional electrical stimulation and spinal cord injury. Physical medicine and rehabilitation clinics of North America, 25(3), 631–ix. doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2014.05.001

Veldman, M. P., Gondin, J., Place, N., & Maffiuletti, N. A. (2016). Effects of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation Training on Endurance Performance. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 544. doi.org/10.3389/fphys.2016.00544

Johnson, M. I., Jones, G., Paley, C. A., & Wittkopf, P. G. (2019). The clinical efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for acute and chronic pain: a protocol for a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). BMJ open, 9(10), e029999. doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2019-029999

Chou, R., Côté, P., Randhawa, K., Torres, P., Yu, H., Nordin, M., Hurwitz, E. L., Haldeman, S., & Cedraschi, C. (2018). The Global Spine Care Initiative: applying evidence-based guidelines on the non-invasive management of back and neck pain to low- and middle-income communities. European spine journal : official publication of the European Spine Society, the European Spinal Deformity Society, and the European Section of the Cervical Spine Research Society, 27(Suppl 6), 851–860. doi.org/10.1007/s00586-017-5433-8

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The information herein on "The Science Behind Electrical Muscle Stimulation" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Our information scope is limited to Chiropractic, musculoskeletal, physical medicines, wellness, contributing etiological viscerosomatic disturbances within clinical presentations, associated somatovisceral reflex clinical dynamics, subluxation complexes, sensitive health issues, and/or functional medicine articles, topics, and discussions.

We provide and present clinical collaboration with specialists from various disciplines. Each specialist is governed by their professional scope of practice and their jurisdiction of licensure. We use functional health & wellness protocols to treat and support care for the injuries or disorders of the musculoskeletal system.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*

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