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Electrical Stimulation

What is Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation is a clinical treatment that applies small electrical currents to specific parts of the body. There are various types of electrical stimulation used as treatments to achieve different results, some of which (but not all) are as follows:

Functional electrical stimulation (FES)

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) uses low level electrical pulses to activate nerves and muscles during performance of a useful functional task e.g. grasping, cycling or walking.  It is most commonly used for people who have an injury to the brain or spinal cord.

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES)

NMES uses low level electrical pulses to activate muscles supplying motor nerves. Unlike FES, NMES is most commonly used to engage nerves and muscles to increase strength as opposed to a functionally useful task such as grasping or walking. NMES is frequently used to increase strength in weak or paralysed muscles prior to FES treatment. The terms NMES and FES are often used interchangeably.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

The term TENS is most often used to describe high frequency low level electrical pulses that provide a sensory experience that can be helpful for managing pain. The difference with electrical stimulation being used for pain is that there is no muscular contraction rather the parameters are set to provide a sensory experience to the skin.

Sub-threshold electrical stimulation (STES)

STES uses low level electrical stimulation to enabe the function of the human sensor-motor system. In many cases the patient many not even feel such stimulation yet the effect can be of great benefit.

Electrical Stimulation devices available from Lyncare

Who can benefit from Electrical Stimulation

For most of us moving and using our limbs is a part of our everyday routine. When we wake in the morning and get up we walk to the bathroom, use the facilities, wash ourselves and brush our teeth. This helps us to get ready, physically and mentally, for the day ahead. This may also involve helping get family members ready for school or work; preparing breakfast and lunches. Then, perhaps, we focus on our own tasks for the day, such as going to work or school, walking the dog, shopping, housework, meeting up with friends, pastimes, and general chores both in and out of the home. We use our legs and arms for practically everything we do; for gross motor movements such as walking, bending, twisting, lifting, and stretching for that top shelf, and also for fine motor movements such as turning a door knob, feeding ourselves, writing or using a phone/tablet.

Now imagine attempting this daily routine routine with limited fine or gross motor movements. For people with neurological conditions fine or gross motor movement issues are as a result of a variety of factors, such as, muscle weakness, poor balance, numbness, dropped foot, fatigue or spasticity. It is recognised that regular exercise of such fundamental movements can improve the symptoms, however these improvements may not be maintained if exercise is not continuous.

What role can electrical stimulation play?

Electrical stimulation can be used to strengthen weakened muscles, improve sensory awareness, decrease spasticity, improve range of movement, decrease pain, and improve function.

The earliest known use of electric muscle stimulation was by the Egyptians over 2000 years ago. They discovered that certain fish emit an electric impulse, and they used this electric stimulation to treat pain or gout. In 1745, Altus Kratzstein, a German physician, wrote the first book on electrical therapy. In the 18th century Italy’s Luigi Galvani experimented with passing of an electrical current through the spine of a frog, thus showing that electric current facilitated the contraction of the frog’s muscles. In 1965, Malzack and Wall published a paper reporting the benefits of the electrical current as therapy for people showing certain symptoms. In 1976, Dr Yahov Kots showed that an electric current (Russian stim) was effective in building muscle mass and increasing fast twitch responses for speed. More and  published studies followed in these footsteps which have reported the various benefits of electrical stimulation as a treatment.

Today electrical stimulation is used widely, such as, TENS devices to aid with pain management, NMES devices that can target specific muscles or nerves to aid muscle strengthening and recovery, and FES devices that again activate specific muscles and nerves but do so in order to carry out a specific function.

What clinical evidence is available to support the use of Electrical Stimulation?

To see a selection of clinical papers and articles published on Electrical Stimulation click here