Proper knowledge of the electrostimulation techniques

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Electrostimulation devices include a current generator. The type, quality and number of programmes offered and the displays are elements to consider before the purchase, because there are tolerability differences between generators.

Various electrostimulation devices

Three categories are available

  • The sport category to build muscle strength, endurance and explosive strength in resistance and recovery

  • The health and fitness category to develop physical and athletic fitness, as well as aesthetics.

  • The medical category for post-injury muscle rebuild, pain, capillarisation and muscle strengthening

There are many electrical current generators, often available from renowned and serious brands. But be careful, besides those inevitable offers, there are many "gadgets" or "bodyworks" that will not allow for results.

 Generators can produce various types of current:

  • Continuous
  • Pulse
  • with constant voltage
  • with constant current

They are defined by the phase duration, the amplitude and the frequency.

Generators must have several channels to allow for the connection of several electrodes, so that you can stimulate several muscles at the same time. They must be electrically guaranteed. To do so, direct connection to the mains is not acceptable. That raises the problem of the battery quality, its charge duration and charging time.

The vast majority of generators offer preset programmes, allowing anyone to enjoy a session adapted to their needs.

The electrodes:

 Be mindful of quality! Indeed, the type, surface and size of the electrodes included, as well as the application methods, play a major role in the tolerability of the electrical pulses. Nowadays, you can find devices offering wired or wireless electrodes, and also devices remotely controlled from an app.

The quality and structure of the electrodes can affect the tolerability, and you may also be more or less sensitive to the pulses sent depending on the period of use. Electrodes should not be applied on damaged skin (wounds, inflammations, burns, irritation, eczema) nor on scars.

Two examples of varying tolerability

  • After a long endurance workout, the skin dehydration status is obviously not the same as after a basic training, and the penetration of the electrical current will depend on your dehydration status
  • Your percentage of body fat, your metabolic status, and the varying hormonal conditions can affect the tolerability and efficiency of electrostimulation.

Finally, be careful with the electrodes cleanliness and storage

Electrostimulation has considerable indications for athletes to achieve the following effects:

  • muscle strength gain
  • muscle mass gain
  • pre-competition warm-up
  • contractility gain
  • pain reduction
  • body shaping
  • overall recovery

Most excitomotor EMS generators include carrier frequencies, phase duration, current intensity, a range of stimulation frequencies, and adjustable recovery time.

Certain devices include mixed programmes, to promote strength, endurance, and recovery, combined with a possibility to choose analgesic currents.

Course of an electrostimulation session

You should be comfortably seated and relaxed

Your skin should be clean of any ointment, gel or cream

Prior warm-up is recommended to get in tune with the programme and test the tolerability of pulses, then, as the session goes on, the intensity may be increased to obtain more and more intense muscular contraction, almost up to unbearable "tetanisation".

Electrostimulation can be used for just recovery purposes, i.e. without contraction, either as part of a sport preparation programme, or as part of post-workout or post-competition pain management, using preferably Tens or very low frequency currents

In terms of sport-related indications, electrostimulation can be used first to increase the maximum voluntary strength, with or without muscle hypertrophy, to start a toning programme, then muscle strengthening and mass gaining can be obtained by isometric work in synergy, on a standard weight bench or during pliometrics.

It should be noted that many electrostimulation generators also offer polarisation programmes that also help optimise recovery

Never disconnect the electrodes when the device is powered

Inconveniences associated with the use of electrostimulation

  • Painful effects: Sensitivity is interindividual and varies with one's state of receptivity. Indeed, certain persons do not tolerate the stimulation sensation nor the current pulses or the burning sensation under the electrode. Pains will depend on the duration, frequency and intensity of the current.
  • Dermatological and allergic effects: Wounds or skin conditions (eczema, psoriasis, etc.) as well as allergies to electrodes or to the contact gel are actual contraindications.
  • Coagulation disorders: the use of blood thinner drugs, haemophilia or a history of venous thrombosis are contraindications.
  • Pregnant athletes: Reservations can also be made and the benefit of using electrostimulation, usually reserved for post-workout rehabilitation, after childbirth may be questionned
  • Disability: Electrostimulation can be used in athletes with a disability or neuromuscular disorders. Medical indications should be followed and a programme should be developed in coordination with the coach, the physical assistant and the medical staff.
  • Children: There is little published data available regarding the effects of electrostimulation on growth cartilage. Its use is therefore not advisable in kid athletes.
  • Risks of overtraining: Excessive stimulation could, according to some authors, lead to the same overtraining effects as standard weight training. Varying the relaxation time and type of pulses will reduce these effects. Any frequency or programme can lead to fatigue at some point.
  • Other contraindications: Epilepsy; Persons wearing a pacemaker; Abdomen of pregnant women; Hernia or eventration. Unhealed wounds. Electrical current phobia;…..

Warning: An improperly administered excitomotor electrical treatment may cause muscle or tendon microlesions by direct or angio-ischemic effect, thus creating weakened areas, a possible factor of fragmented tears. Substantial risks sanction guilty empiricism.. sources (Médecine du sport N 5-1977 – G. Bischop et Coll).

An appropriate standard for electrostimulation devices must include the following:

  • Systematic use of a safety procedure when powering on
  • Restriction of the type of currents used at signals proven to be safe

Information about:

  • Appropriate electrodes
  • Contraindications, warnings and precautions.

Modern electrostimulation method

Wifi "full body" electrostimulation on a machine using a specific suit with current sensors lets you do your cardio workout while building muscles!

Conclusion

Electrostimulation is a technique used by sports physicians, physiotherapists and physical assistants to optimise the muscular preparation of high-level athletes, but it is also an affordable and very useful technique for all athletes, whatever their sport or level, to promote recovery and maintain muscle tone. Electrostimulation is also a good technique for body shaping

 

Docteur Patrick Bacquaert

Médecin chef de l'IRBMS

 

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Advice

Sport is good for your health, and the objective is to avoid injuries and microtraumas and to recover as quickly as possible to enjoy the benefits of sport and maintain one's fitness and wellness
Post-workout muscle soreness can be avoided or lessened so that it becomes tolerable and is not an obstacle either to everyday life or to going back to the stadium as soon as possible

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