Electrical Stimulation Therapy
Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Electrical stimulation (e-stim) is the use of a device to send gentle electrical pulses through the skin.
There are 2 main types of devices:
Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to help repair muscles
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to help with pain
E-stim may be done in an office or at home.
Reasons for Procedure
E-stim may be used to repair muscles or to help with pain from:
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Potential problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will go over some of these problems, like:
Note: E-stim is not advised for people with heart problems, seizures, or women who are pregnant.
Before e-stim, talk to your doctor about ways to handle anything that may raise your risk of problems.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Certain medicines may cause problems during e-stim or after. Talk to your doctor about all medicines or supplements you are taking.
Description of Procedure
Small sticky pads, called electrodes, will be placed around the site. Wires from the e-stim device will be attached to the sticky pads.
The device will be turned on at a low setting. The setting will be raised until you sense a pins and needles feeling. An EMS device will also cause a small twitch in the muscle. The strength of the EMS may be adjusted throughout your treatment as your body gets used to the feeling.
How Long Will It Take?
E-stim may last 5-15 minutes. It depends on the reason you need to have it done.
How Much Will It Hurt?
You may feel a tingly or warm feeling during e-stim. The feelings are strange but should not be painful.
When you return home, take these steps:
Follow your pain or rehabilitation program as advised by your doctor or physical therapist.
Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have:
Redness or swelling at the site where the sticky pads were placed
Rapid heart beat
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
American Chronic Pain Association
http://theacpa.org CANADIAN RESOURCES:
Canadian Cancer Society
Chronic Pain Association of Canada
Electrical stimulation. University of California San Diego website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL) Accessed June 13, 2018.
Guide to controlling cancer pain. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated April 2017. Accessed June 13, 2018.
Resende L, Merriwether E, Rampazo E, et al. Meta-analysis of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for relief of spinal pain. Eur J Pain. 2018;22(4):663-678.
TENS machines. Patient UK website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL) Updated March 26, 2018. Accessed June 13, 2018.
7/23/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance
: Nascimento LR, Michaelsen SM. Cyclical electrical stimulation increases strength and improves activity after stroke: a systematic review. J Physiother. 2014;60(1):22-30.
Last reviewed May 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Rimas Lukas, MD Last Updated: 6/13/2018