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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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Electric Muscle Stimulator: Benefits, Uses, Applications & Instructions

iTENS wireless small wings from iTENS Australia

An electric muscle stimulator is a portable device that uses electrical impulses to induce muscle contractions. In return, it makes the muscles stronger and more stable. This technology has gained popularity in recent years due to its benefits for physical therapy, injury rehabilitation, and athletic performance enhancement. The device is easy to use, involving the placement of electrodes on the target muscles and setting the frequency and intensity to a comfortable level for the user.

Electrical stimulation is a comprehensive form of treatment for individuals with varying conditions. It has shown efficacy in relieving pain and improving physical functions. However, before starting this type of therapy, it is essential to know how they work and understand the applications and direction of use. In this article, we will delve into the various benefits of electric muscle stimulation, how to use the device, operation and safety guidelines.

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What Is an Electric Muscle Stimulator?

An electric muscle stimulator is a small unit consisting of a power generator and adhesive electrode pads. It sends electrical impulses that travel through the electrodes and into the muscles, causing them to contract. These impulses can be strong but painless. In addition, they mimic the natural signals of the brain to activate muscle fibres.

The device has various settings and intensity levels, allowing users to customise their stimulation based on their needs and comfort level. It includes the frequency, which is the number of pulses delivered in one second. Adjusting the frequency can target different muscle fibres, such as slow-twitch or fast-twitch muscles. On the other hand, the intensity determines the strength of the electrical pulses. 

Muscle stimulators are common treatments in physical therapy settings for muscle rehabilitation. It is also a beneficial tool for muscle training and toning. They can help improve muscle strength, increase range of motion, reduce muscle spasms, and promote blood circulation. However, it is advisable to seek professional guidance before using the device.

A Brief History

  • The concept of electric stimulation dates back to ancient times when Egyptians used electric fish to relieve pain.
  • In the late 18th century, Luigi Galvani discovered that electric currents could cause muscle contractions when he touched a frog’s leg with a metal scalpel during a thunderstorm.
  • In the 20th century, electrical stimulation devices were bulky and difficult to transport.
  • The first modern electric stimulator was developed in the 1960s as a therapeutic tool to help people with muscle atrophy and rehabilitation after injuries or surgeries.
  • Today, the device is popular in the fitness industry as a way to enhance muscle strength and tone.

A woman wearing a large wing electrode on her lower back

How Do Electric Muscle Stimulators Work?

Electric muscle stimulators work by delivering electrical currents to the muscles through adhesive electrode pads. The currents pass through the skin and into the underlying muscles. It mimics the signals that the brain sends during physical activity, causing them to contract and relax. This contraction pattern can lead to increased muscle mass and strength over time.

The electrical impulses produced by the device can vary in intensity and frequency, allowing for targeted and customisable workouts. Thus, users can adjust the settings depending on their comfort level and fitness goals. Additionally, muscle stimulators can target specific muscle groups or localised areas. This makes them a versatile tool for rehabilitation, training, and toning.

The muscle stimulation can also reach deep muscle layers that are often difficult to activate through traditional exercise alone. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have difficulty performing certain movements or exercises due to injury, surgery, or other physical limitations. However, while they can be beneficial in certain situations, they should not be used as a substitute for regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle.

Understanding Muscle Contraction and Electrical Currents

Muscle contraction and electrical currents are closely interconnected. When a muscle contracts, it is the result of electrical signals being sent from the brain or spinal cord to the fibres. These signals, also known as action potentials, travel along specialised cells called neurons. In particular, the motor neurons are responsible for initiating functional movement.

When using a device, the electrical currents reach the motor nerves, bypassing the brain. Once they reach the muscle fibres, they trigger the release of calcium ions and then bind to proteins. As a result, it creates a power stroke that pulls the actin filament towards the centre. 

A woman wearing four iTENS electrodes on her leg and foot

Electric Muscle Stimulators for Improved Blood Circulation

One of the uses of electric muscle stimulators is to improve poor blood circulation. The mild currents from the machine help to relax and dilate blood vessels. This, in turn, aids in pumping blood throughout the body, especially in the targeted areas. This dilation allows for increased blood flow, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the muscles.

The increased circulation also helps to remove waste products and toxins more efficiently. In addition, electrical muscle stimulation helps with muscle recovery and tissue repair. By increasing the blood flow to the affected area, it stimulates the production of growth factors and promotes the formation of new blood vessels. As a result, it accelerates the healing process.

Moreover, muscle stimulators are helpful in addressing certain circulatory disorders. The increased blood circulation can benefit individuals with poor blood flow or those who have been immobile for extended periods. By targeting specific muscle groups, it can increase their endurance. Overall, it is a non-invasive treatment option for people who want to enhance circulation and recovery from injury.

Main Benefits and Application

The main benefits that improved blood circulation can give are reducing inflammation and shortening the recovery periods of muscle injuries. The mild electrical pulses reduce muscle tension and fatigue, which contributes to pain. It also facilitates the healing of damaged tissues. Thus, they can aid in rehabilitation or manage muscle soreness after workouts.

One application in which electrical muscle stimulation can help is for individuals with Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD). This condition affects the legs or lower extremities due to narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels. Through the therapy, it enhances blood flow, reducing discomfort and increasing the range of motion.

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Electric Muscle Stimulators for Increased Muscle Strength

Athletes and fitness enthusiasts use electric muscle stimulators to increase muscle strength. When used in conjunction with regular exercise, the device can help individuals develop stronger muscles. It works by mimicking voluntary contractions without causing muscle strain. Therefore, it promotes muscle toning and growth. It also enhances the efficacy of workout sessions.

One of the advantages of stimulation machines is the ability to target specific muscle groups. It can isolate individual muscles, allowing for a more focused approach to building strength. Furthermore, it facilitates the passive activation of a large number of motor units and induces synchronous recruitment. This mechanism can help with the strengthening or maintaining muscle mass.

Moreover, electrical muscle stimulation can be particularly useful for rehabilitation purposes. It allows for targeted muscle activation and helps prevent muscle atrophy. In some cases, it boosts metabolism and assists in weight loss. However, it is vital to combine it with a healthy diet and proper training and exercise. In summary, regular sessions can lead to improved muscle strength, endurance, and overall physical performance.

Main Benefits and Application

  • Activate muscle fibres, leading to increased strength and muscle mass. 
  • Improves weakened muscles and reverses muscle atrophy. This condition is the thinning of muscle mass due to long periods of inactivity.
  • Enhance core strength by targeting abdominal muscles, oblique, and lower back muscles.
  • Strengthening the muscles can help prevent future injuries and improve overall stability.
  • Target several muscle groups simultaneously, making workouts more efficient and time-saving.
  • Enhance muscular endurance by increasing muscle fibre recruitment and resistance capabilities.
  • Supplement regular workouts, improving athletic performance.
  • Improve overall body tone. The stimulation can help tone various muscle groups, resulting in a more defined and aesthetic physique. 

A person placing a TENS electrode on the back

Electric Muscle Stimulators for Pain Relief

While the main purpose of electric muscle stimulators is to improve muscle functions, they can also provide pain relief. The electrical pulses can be adjusted to soothe sore or swollen muscles. Additionally, the increase in blood flow lessens inflammation and soreness. This aids in pain alleviation and promotes faster recovery from muscle injuries.

Unlike oral medications, stimulator machines can target the affected area directly through electrode placement. The device sends electrical impulses concentrated on the specific muscles. This targeted approach allows for more effective pain management and can be beneficial for those who have localised pain. It also does not have adverse risks or side effects that are usually associated with medicines.

The use of electrical stimulation can help with muscle strains, sprains, and spasms. Individuals may use it before and after a strenuous workout to minimise the severity of muscle aches. Moreover, the device is applicable in various pain areas of the body. However, there are certain parts to avoid pad placement. This includes the head, throat, and chest.

Main Benefits and Application

Pain relief with electric stimulators helps alleviate inflammation and soreness due to muscle overuse. It is beneficial for people who are unable to engage in regular physical activity due to injury or limited mobility. It can also help manage postoperative pain and promote faster recovery.

Aside from acute pain, it can help those with chronic conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia. Additionally, the device can be combined with physical therapy programs like stretching and exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion. They are beneficial in relieving muscle knots in common sore areas like the back, shoulders, and legs.

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Electric Muscle Stimulator vs Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator

There are several types of machines used in physical therapy. While an electric muscle stimulator targets the muscles, other types work on the nerve. One of these devices is the Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator or TENS machine. Generally, TENS uses lower frequencies than electric muscle stimulation. It is vital to know their differences and understand when to use each one.

The main purpose of muscle stimulation is to induce contractions for strengthening and reconditioning. On the other hand, TENS mainly targets sensory nerves to relieve pain symptoms. It works by blocking pain signals in the spinal cord from reaching the brain. This mechanism is based on the Pain Gate Control Theory of Pain.

Another way in which TENS works is by stimulating the release of endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that inhibit the nerve cells from processing pain messages. Overall, the distinction between muscle and nerve stimulators is their target treatment, frequency and intensity settings, and electrode placement.

TENS & EMS Combo Units

There are several devices that offer both TENS and EMS functionalities in one unit. This can benefit individuals who require comprehensive treatment for muscle stimulation and pain management. Users can adjust the strength parameters higher to induce muscular contractions. Conversely, setting the frequency to 120 Hz and below stimulates the pain-blocking mechanisms of the body.

The device has programmable settings to adjust the stimulation parameters. Moreover, many units have pre-set modes for efficient use. These programs have built-in settings designed for specific body parts or health conditions. This often includes treatments for joint pain, neuropathic pain, tendon pain, musculoskeletal pain, and massage. 

A woman manually operating her iTENS electrode

How to Use an Electric Muscle Stimulator

Using an electric muscle stimulator is relatively simple and straightforward. However, it is important to ensure it is suitable for the individual and condition. It is advisable to consult a health professional before using the device. To operate, first place the electrodes on the target area and turn on the machine. Ensure the skin is clean and dry before pad placement.

Next, adjust the settings (frequency, pulse width, intensity) to the desired stimulation level. Start with a low intensity and gradually increase until the pulse feels strong but comfortable. Users may experience noticeable pulses as the muscles contract and relax. However, this should not cause pain or discomfort. 

The ideal treatment time for muscle stimulation is 15 to 20 minutes. After the session, turn off the machine and remove the electrode pads. The duration may depend on the stimulation settings. Higher frequency or intensity levels would require a shorter time. This is to prevent overstimulation of the muscles and nearby nerves. However, for lower pulse settings, individuals may use the device for up to 45 to 60 minutes at a time.

Setting Up the Device

  • Use new batteries or fully charge the unit for rechargeable devices.
  • Attach the wires to the main unit and electrode pads.
  • Use new or clean pads to avoid skin irritation.
  • For wireless devices, attach the pads directly to the machine, typically a compact power generator.
  • Enable Bluetooth connection and sync it with a smartphone or tablet.
  • Attach the electrodes to the skin of the designated area or muscles.
  • Turn on the device and set the desired program or mode. 
  • Low frequency (2-10 Hz) is for endorphin release and muscle relaxation.
  • High frequency (50 and above) is for blocking pain signals and muscle contractions.

A person removing the film on a TENS pad

Electric Muscle Stimulator Electrode Placement Guide

Proper electrode placement is crucial for the effective and safe use of an electric muscle stimulator. This may vary depending on the specific muscles or areas that need treatment or stimulation. The first step is to identify the target muscle group. For example, for the biceps, position the electrodes on the front and back of the upper arm. 

After identifying the target area, the next step is to prepare the skin. It is vital to clean the area thoroughly to remove any dirt, oil, lotion, or sweat that can interfere with the quality of the electrical conduction. Individuals may use mild soap and water to wash the skin and pat them completely dry.

Place the electrodes on the muscle belly or motor point where the nerve endings are concentrated. An alternative is along the nerve pathways that innervate those muscles. Furthermore, it is worth noting to avoid pad placement on areas with broken or irritated skin, as this can cause discomfort and potential skin damage. Also, do not place the electrodes directly over the spine, joints, or bony prominences.

How to Prolong Your Electrode Pads

Electrode pads are reusable for up to several applications. They require regular replacement when they lose their stickiness. However, there are several means to help prolong the life of the pads. Primarily, clean the pads regularly and store them in a clean, dry place. Gently rub the pads to remove any residue.

Moreover, drop a small amount of water on the pad before each use. This can help improve their adhesive properties and make them last longer. Avoid harsh or abrasive materials when cleaning the electrodes. Lastly, hold at the tip to minimise contact with oils or dirt from the fingers.

A shirtless man suffering from lower back and neck pain

Electric Muscle Stimulator Safety Guidelines

There are several safety guidelines to consider when using an electric muscle stimulator to prevent any potential risks or harm. Firstly, consult a health professional, especially for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. Usage of such devices may not be suitable for pregnant women or people with heart disease, epilepsy, and implanted devices.

Secondly, do not exceed the recommended stimulation parameters. If the electrical pulses cause discomfort, check the settings and reduce the intensity or frequency levels. Thirdly, do not use the device for more than one hour. Extreme levels and prolonged usage may lead to muscle fatigue or skin irritation. Additionally, avoid using the device while driving or operating heavy machinery as it may cause distraction or impair coordination. 

In addition, do not use the electrical device in water as this may cause shocks and other adverse effects. If any unusual reactions or side effects occur, discontinue use and consult a doctor. Lastly, avoid using the machine on the head, throat, and chest, as these regions are near vital organs or sensitive nerves.

When Not to Use the Device

While electrical stimulation can be beneficial, there are certain situations where it is not appropriate to use the device. One such situation is if an individual has a heart condition or an implanted medical device, like a pacemaker. The electrical impulses may interfere with the functioning of these devices or put additional strain on the heart.

Moreover, usage of the device for muscle stimulation should be two times per week. Due to the strong currents, daily use may cause muscle fatigue or irritation. It is important to give the muscles time to rest and recover between sessions.

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Where to Buy Electric Muscle Stimulators

Electric muscle stimulators are available for purchase from various sources. One option is to buy them from specialised fitness or medical equipment stores. These outlets can cater to different needs and budgets. The advantage of buying from these stores is that customers can receive personalised assistance and advice from knowledgeable staff.

One of the most convenient options is to buy them online. Many reputable online retailers offer a wide range of devices, from entry-level to professional-grade machines. Additionally, it allows individuals to browse through different models and compare prices from the comfort of their own homes. A doctor or physical therapist may also recommend where to buy a specialised device.

It is important to ensure that the retailer is reputable and trustworthy before making a purchase. Check for warranties, return policies, and secure payment options. Reading online reviews and customer feedback can also help in making an informed decision. Ultimately, the choice of buying a device depends on specific needs and preferences. 

iTENS Australia

  • iTENS Australia is a trusted online retailer recommended by pain specialists. 
  • Provides nationwide delivery in Australia. The shipping options include a Parcel Post (uninsured), Parcel Post (insured), and Express Post.
  • Same-day dispatch
  • 12-month warranty
  • Offers the iTENS, a wireless TENS machine with muscle stimulation benefits.
  • iTENS are available in small and large kits.
  • The kit includes a rechargeable device with a Bluetooth receiver, one set of reusable gel pads, a charging dock with a USB cable, a quick start guide, and a sealable bag.
  • Also available are long interchangeable wings and small and refill gel pads for separate purchases. 

Conclusion

The electric muscle stimulator is a beneficial tool for muscle strengthening, toning, and reconditioning. It works by delivering electrical currents through electrodes placed on the skin. This produces physiological effects, such as involuntary muscular contractions, increased blood circulation, and pain blocking. In addition, it has various applications, including treatments for physical therapy, injury rehabilitation, and pain management. Individuals may incorporate the use of the device with their fitness routine to enhance overall muscle performance. 

The device is easy to operate and generally safe when used correctly. However, it is important to follow the guidelines and precautions provided by the manufacturer to ensure safety and effectiveness. It is also crucial to consult with a healthcare professional if there are any concerns or pre-existing conditions that may be affected by electrical stimulation. Individuals may buy the device from medical equipment stores and reputable online retailers like iTENS Australia.

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