Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS)

Rating

Category: Allied Health Options

Injury Type: Acute

What is it?

Similar to electrical nerve stimulation, in which an alternating electrical current (AC) or modulated direct current (DC) is passed through the tissues for pain relief. However, in this approach the intensity is higher, leading to additional muscle contractions. EMS is applied using an electrical device and should only be provided by qualified practitioners. The current stimulates muscles to contract through electrodes placed on the skin. It can be used to prevent muscle wasting when muscles are not able to work by themselves, especially when it is expected that the muscles will begin working at a later stage.

How does it work?

The current may inhibit pain in the tissues surrounding the electrodes by inhibiting pain impulses (the so-called 'pain gate theory'). The higher intensity can also stimulate rhythmic muscle contractions which may improve joint range of movement, re-educate muscles, retard muscle atrophy, and increase muscle strength. Circulation can be increased and muscle tension decreased, which may lead to secondary pain relief.

Is it effective?

There is limited evidence from one study that a single treatment of EMS does not reduce tenderness in people with chronic neck pain, however, there is no research on people with whiplash.

Are there any disadvantages?

There has been no research on the disadvantages associated with EMS. The treatment is only available through a qualified health professional, and it may not be suitable for everyone.

Where do you get it?

Electrical muscle stimulation may be provided by therapists involved in facilitating recovery from whiplash.

Recommendations

The use of EMS for whiplash is not recommended because of limited current research evidence. More research is required.

Key References

  • Kroeling, P, Gross, A, Goldsmith, CH, Cervical Overview Group, 'Electrotherapy for neck disorders', Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD004251. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004251.pub3.
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