Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS)
With back pain injuries, the injured structures that are contributing to the pain or dysfunction of the patient are very slow to heal. In the case of the soft tissues of the body, these structures are poorly supplied with blood vessels, causing the recovery period of some injuries to last months or years. In the case of injuries that hurt the spinal nerves, the muscles supplied by those nerves may diminish in both strength and muscle mass. In such cases where the muscles that support the back become weak or atrophied, the cause of the nerve damage must be corrected, and the patient must undergo a rehabilitative program to rebuild these atrophied muscles and tissues. Typical rehabilitative programs that are aimed at rebuilding the muscles and soft tissues related to back injuries involve back exercises and/or physical therapy. Other forms of treatments may involve electrical stimulation focused towards the atrophied muscles to the rate of recovery as adjuncts to these types of therapies. One such technology is called electro muscle stimulation (EMS) which is designed to build back up strength to the muscles through involuntary muscle contraction and relaxation.
EMS is designed to develop the muscles in the same way as would occur through normal everyday movements of the body as well as exercise. We are able to perform all of our conscious body movements through the contraction and relaxation of our skeletal muscles. When we flex our leg, the muscles in the back of our thighs contract, and the muscles in the front of our thighs relax. When we extent our leg at the knee, our muscles in the front of our thighs contract and the muscles in the back of our thighs relax. This contraction and relaxation of the muscles maintains muscle tone and mass in our legs. Due to injuries and conditions that require casting, the muscles of our legs begin to atrophy. People who support electro muscle stimulation (EMS) as an important part of a rehabilitative program believe that muscle stimulation through this type of electrical stimulation may speed the rate of certain muscle strength and conditioning programs.
This type of muscle stimulation and strength building is recommended for medical conditions or recovery programs in which significant muscle atrophy has occurred, due to several possible reasons. One possible reason may be elective back surgery, in which the patient's movements will be restricted for a period of time before they may be able to perform their back exercises. Other situations where in which electrical stimulation may help to build muscle or inhibit its atrophy may include spinal injuries that involve partial paralysis, and rehabilitative programs designed to increase a person's range of motion.
Electro Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is typically delivered through a portable electric generator that is either powered from a wall outlet or a rechargeable battery. A wire lead connects from the generator to the patient. The end of the lead contacts the patient through a tiny needle or an adhesive patch which temporarily bonds to the skin. The EMS system triggers muscle contractions through electric stimulation. These systems may range from professional models used in physical therapy and chiropractor offices to those available for home use. This stimulation may feel strange at first because it causes your muscles to contract and relax against your will, though it should not be painful. If successful, this treatment should add strength and functionality to injured soft tissue.
Side Effects and Complications: Though the medical research offers conflicting reports as to the clinical benefits of this type of treatment, it is generally accepted as a safe back pain treatment. Side effects that uncommonly do occur are related to skin sensitivity and allergic reaction to the adhesive. EMS is considered a more appropriate treatment for muscle related injuries, as opposed to soft tissue injuries that involve the ligaments and tendons.