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Electrical Stimulation

What is electrical stimulation?

While it may sound a bit intimidating, electrical stimulation really isn’t at all! When used correctly and provided under the guidance of a licensed and skilled physical therapist, electrical stimulation is a safe and effective modality that can be used to treat a variety of conditions.

While individual electrical stimulation units and modes of delivery can vary, the standard electrical stimulation device utilizes self-adhesive electrodes placed around the target treatment area on the body. These electrodes are connected via wire leads to the unit, through which electricity can pass and ultimately interact with sensory and/or motor nerves (depending on the type of current utilized).

What is electrical stimulation used for in physical therapy?

There are several electrical stimulation modes that use different types of currents intended to stimulate different nerves in specific ways. These include: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), interferential, pre-modulated, Russian, and symmetrical or asymmetrical bi-phasic. Don’t let the words confuse you, though. Your physical therapist will decide on the right mode to meet your unique needs.

Our physical therapists may use electrical stimulation  to provide a variety of beneficial healing effects, including:

  • Reduce, eliminate, and/or control pain (both acute and chronic)
  • Increase local circulation
  • Decrease swelling
  • Reduce muscle spasm
  • Provide biofeedback (aka improve body awareness)

Pain control and reduction is the most frequent indication of electrical stimulation usage. Specifically, this modality can trigger an innate and completely natural analgesic effect by stimulating specific sensory nerve fibers (including A-beta, A-delta, and C fibers) which both disrupt or decrease the sensation of pain and also elicit the release of certain neurotransmitters which can prolong the pain-relieving effects.

While it’s not for everyone (including people with deep vein thrombosis, those who are pregnant, have pacemakers, or have impaired cognition) or safe to use on every area of the body (including on the anterior neck, eyes, or over areas with damaged skin or decreased sensation), electrical stimulation can be used for a wide variety of conditions as indicated, including sports or auto accident related injuries, repetitive stress injuries, muscle strains, and ligament sprains.

Does electrical muscle stimulation hurt?

No! The intensity of the electrical muscle stimulation or sensory nerve stimulation is easily modifiable and ultimately will only be as much as you, the patient, can tolerate. Typically, electrical stimulation will feel tingly or prickly (some patients describe it as a comforting “pins and needles” sensation). Sometimes, as in the case when used for muscle strengthening, the intensity level can be high and may be somewhat uncomfortable, but it should never cause pain. 

Would you like to know more about electrical stimulation for an injury?

Give us a call at 734-222-8515. We’ll schedule an appointment at

 Healing Hands Physical Therapy 

58 Parkland Plaza Ste 100

Ann Arbor, MI 48103

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