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What is Estim (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) and what are the benefits?


What is Estim (Electrical Muscle Stimulation)?

Electrical stimulation, also referred to as e-stim, is a tool that applies electrical stimulation to a muscle or muscle group for pain, spasticity and muscle contraction. It is placed on your skin by electrodes that come in different sizes to the specific area you want to treat. The electrodes deliver impulses through the skin to make a muscle contraction, inhibit spasticity, and relieve chronic pain.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is a method of non-invasive muscle shock therapy that has been used for years and is now being adopted by athletes and frequent travelers because it helps reduce muscle fatigue and soreness and increase the rate of recovery. It also reduces stress on muscles while increasing the range of motion due to decreased stiffness in the joints. The EMS technique can be applied to any part of the body, with or without skin contact.

What can Estim help with?

Electrical stimulation can help build and regain strength in muscles suffering from atrophy. It is also used to inhibit spastic muscles to help gain a specific range of motion that someone may be lacking in. It is most commonly used for spasms in the back which help relieve pain by sending currents from the electrodes into, and through, the skin directly to the spasm itself.

Does Electrical Muscle Stimulation cause pain?

E-stim can be an unusual feeling, but is not a painful therapy. Many who experience low sensation actually enjoy the opportunity to be able to feel their muscles (sometimes for the very first time!). As you would hear our occupational therapists say, sensory drives motor function. If you can’t feel the muscles, you can’t use them, which is why e-stim is a wonderful therapeutic tool.

Electrical Muscle Stimulation therapy at Crawl Walk Jump Run

How Estim therapy works

Electrical stimulation is used in a few ways to achieve different effects, such as muscle strengthening and relaxation. EMS uses short bursts of high-energy, low voltage electric currents that stimulate the muscles.

When the electricity is applied to a specific site through electrodes, it interrupts the pain signal transmitting the sensation of pain from the brain to that area. In addition, the electrical energy damages some cells at the application site and stimulates nerves that then transmit more positive signals to other parts of your body. As a result, you will feel less pain and more relief.

Estim can target specific muscle groups. The current stimulates the muscles, causing them to contract over time. With continued application, these contractions will cause strengthening of the targeted area and help it relax by increasing blood flow and circulation in both directions. This helps improve flexibility as well. EMS therapy is also known for reducing inflammation and resulting swelling.

Estim has been used for years in physical therapy offices, chiropractic clinics, and some hospitals to increase mobility and maintain strength without overworking a patient’s body part or joint.

Benefits of Electrical Muscle Stimulation are:

  • Stim machines help improve people’s bodies by increasing blood flow (circulation) to body parts that are weak or injured, making it easier for them to heal.
  • Electric pulse therapy is beneficial because it gets your muscles moving, which can help build up strength in weak areas. Muscle stimulators do this by assisting the nerves to send messages from the brain to the muscles, making it easier for your muscles to move.
  • Estim therapy is used to treat injuries by stimulating tissue that has been hurt or damaged. This causes the body’s natural repair process to begin sooner and speeds up recovery time.
  • Electric stimulation therapy treatments are not painful, but they should never be stopped mid-session. Turning the power off mid-session will not hurt you, but recovery time can be delayed.

Side effects include dizziness and headaches, and estim is not for people with diabetes or heart conditions. 

What are the different types of Estim?

At Crawl Walk Jump Run, we currently utilize Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation, or NMES, and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator, or TENS, units. According to the Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association, an associate of the American Physical Therapy Association, NMES “…involves the use of devices that transmit electrical impulses through electrodes to stimulate muscle groups. There are two different types of NMES: one is functional electrical stimulation (FES) and the second is lateral electrical surface stimulation (LESS).”

We utilize FES a great deal at our facility, as it works to replace stimuli from destroyed nerve pathways through electrical muscle stimulation. One of the machines we utilize FES on is our RT600™, as this form of e-stim works to improve muscle tone, strength, and the ability to increase independence – especially with walking. We also utilize NMES with our VitalStim® unit, helping those with oral motor weakness and feeding difficulties.

Additionally, we utilize TENS units, which apply electrical stimulators directly to the pain site. TENS are commonly used to relieve pain from surgery, symptoms caused by a traumatic brain injury, chronic pain, muscular pain, etc. One of the great benefits of a TENS unit, is that you can use these in an inpatient, outpatient and even a home setting.

Other procedures include:

  • Electrical Stimulation of Tissue Repair(ESTR): To alleviate pain by reducing inflammation and improving blood flow
  • Interferential Current(IFC): Pulses are helpful in reducing pain.
  • Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation(NMES): Useful for increasing muscular strength and recovering muscle function.
  • Functional Electrical Stimulation(FES): Aims to create long-term stimulation to keep muscle and motor skills strong.
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation(SCS): Relieves spine discomfort and pain.

Who should use Estim Therapies?

Anyone can use estim therapy, with it being a non-invasive method of treatment. Estim is also known for reducing inflammation and resulting swelling. In addition, it’s safe to reduce chronic pain because estim will not damage the nerves through overexertion like other methods such as surgery do.

Estim can be taken home by the patient and used on all parts of the body, even when there is no skin contact. The process can be applied virtually anywhere on the body, including the neck, shoulders, legs, and lower back. Electrical Muscle Stimulation targets specific muscle groups with brief, high-energy pulses of low voltage electric currents that stimulate the muscles

Estim stimulates nerve receptors in the muscles and interrupts pain signals sent from the brain to the body. Estim is also known for increasing range of motion due to decreased stiffness in joints and can help reduce tightness, soreness, and fatigue.

Estim is easy to use, portable, and very inexpensive.

How can e-stim be used at home?

As you may or may not already know, various forms of e-stim can certainly be used at home. Most commonly you will see people with their own TENS units, especially if they deal with chronic and deep muscular pain. E-stim units, like smaller four-electrode FES systems, can also be purchased for in-home use by themselves, or in accompaniment with other devices such as a WalkAide.

If your therapist believes an e-stim unit would be beneficial for in-home use, they will incorporate this into your personalized home exercise program, or HEP. Please speak with your therapist if you would like to learn more about the varying forms of electrical stimulation, and how they can benefit your everyday life.


If you’re an athlete, a frequent traveler, or just looking to stay in shape without going through the pain and stiffness of exercise, then Electrical Muscle Stimulation might be your answer. In this post, we talked about what it is precisely and how you can use it to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue while increasing the range of motion for joints. 

At Crawl Walk Jump Run Therapy Clinic in Clinton Township, we empower patients through physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy to advance their lives. Our intensive one-on-one sessions enable children and adults with neurological or orthopedic conditions to improve their symptoms using advanced treatments cutting edge technology, state of the art equipment.

If any of these benefits appeal to you, don’t hesitate to connect with Crawl Walk Jump Run today for a complimentary assessment.  



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