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Electronic Muscle Stimulation: The facts

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) is the elicitation of muscle contraction using electric impulses. The impulses are generated by a device and delivered through electrodes on the skin in direct proximity to the muscles to be stimulated. The impulses mimic the action coming from the central nervous system, causing the muscles to contract. The electrodes are generally pads that adhere to the skin. You will learn more about EMS in this article.

History

EMS is both a form of electrotherapy and of muscle training. It is cited by important authors as a complementary technique for sport training. Luigi Galvani (1791) provided the first scientific evidence that current can activate muscle. During the 19th and 20th century, researchers studied and documented the exact electrical properties that generate muscle movement. In the 70s, these studies were shared during conferences with the Western sport establishments. However, results were conflicting, perhaps because the mechanisms in which EMS acted was poorly understood.

How it works

The EMS machine works by conducting electrical currents from the machine to the muscle at a safe current rate. The process starts by placing self-adhesive electrodes to the motor points of the desired muscle or muscle system. The dial on the machine is slowly adjusted until the patient can feel the current passing through the skin and into the muscle. The higher the setting on the dial, the faster the muscle will contract and relax. This process is continued for a varied amount of time, dependent on how large is the muscle the EMS machine is trying to stimulate. With EMS, instead of your brain sending a signal to your muscles through the spinal cord, the EMS machine electrically stimulates the nerves attached to the muscle at the motor point. Once the nerves are stimulated, they cause the muscle to expand and contract, much in the same way as conventional exercise.

Uses

EMS can be used both as a training and a therapeutic tool. In medicine, EMS is used for rehabilitation purposes. For instance in physical therapy and in the prevention of disuse muscle atrophy which can occur, for example after musculo skeletal, such as damage to bones, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons. A stronger muscle has larger cross-section. EMS devices cause a calorie burning that is marginal at best: calories are burnt in significant amount only when most of the body is involved in physical exercise: several muscles, the heart and the respiratory system are all engaged at once. In general, spot reduction of fat deposits by exercising only a few muscles underneath, voluntarily or electrically, does not work.

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