If you’re experiencing pain during your recovery from injury or a muscle condition, you may be interested to learn about electrical muscle stimulation (EMS).
Electric muscle stimulator machines are designed to help strengthen and rehabilitate your muscles using tiny electrical impulses to produce a muscle contraction that is thought to help your muscles back to recovery.
In this article we’ll look at three of the best EMS machines on the market, so you can decide which is best for you.
What is electronic muscle stimulation?
In the simplest of terms, electronic muscle stimulation works by using electrical pulses that simulate signals coming from the cells in your nervous system known as neurons.
It works by sending mild electrical currents to your muscles or nerves.
Electrical muscle stimulators target muscles to make the contract, much like flexing your bicep or other forms of muscle contractions.
This then causes blood to flow, helping your injured muscles to repair.
The repeated contractions, followed by the relation period improves the strength of your muscles.
It is also thought that EMS machines can also “train” your muscles to respond to the natural contraction signals that your body sends.
Six benefits of electrical stimulation
If you are recommended to have EMS by your doctor or physiotherapist, there are six medical benefits that are thought to help you on your road to recovery, these include:1
Reduced nerve pain
While nerve pain may vary, the idea of using a TENS machine to target and reduce nerve pain works in the same way.
Electrical stimulation works by interfering with or “confusing” the pain signals that your body transmits.
Promote healing of muscular injuries
Some electrotherapies, particularly those that include shockwave therapy treatment, have been proven to effectively treat a variety of conditions.
Not only will this help reduce pain, but it can also help increase blood flow to injured areas, which can help stimulate the healing process.
This is thought to be most effective for sports injuries such as sprains and strains.
Drug-free pain control
Using an electrical stimulation machine provides a safe, non-addictive way to manage muscular pain.
Whether you suffer from neck or back pain, your daily life can be impacted. While medication, such as painkillers can offer relief, electrotherapy can offer a great alternative.
In severe medical cases, using EMS or TENS machines may, in some circumstances, prevent the need for surgery.
May prevent muscle waste
When you aren’t able to use your muscles due to injury, illness or nerve damage it can result in muscle atrophy – this is when a muscle wastes away.
This can impact your body with pain and stiffness of muscles, by restricting movement and in severe circumstances, your quality of life.
Electrical muscle stimulation may help prevent this by helping your muscles contract.
May help repair wounds
Healthy circulation is a very important part of the healing process. It also helps remove toxins from the body to keep you healthy.
Studies have shown that electronic muscle stimulation can improve blood flow in the body, which can help your recovery.
Very few side effects
The most common side effect with electrotherapy treatments is from the electrode pads being secured to the skin.
This generally illustrates how few side effects there are from EMS machines.
Three of the best electric muscle stimulators
Picking out the best muscle stimulators can be a difficult process.
The market is flooded with different designs and features that may or may not be useful.
We’ve narrowed it down to three different machines that should give you an insight on what you should be looking out for.
If you’re looking for an all-in-one TENS and EMS machine, then this Beurer Digital might be the answer to your prayers.
It has 64 pre-set programs for pain relief, muscle strengthening and massage, and six customisable programs available for more individual programming.
It uses four electrodes by sending electrical nerve stimulation signals to the affected areas with four electrodes, designed to provide you with a relaxing impulse massage.
If you experience menstrual cramps and are looking for a way to control them, then this Beurer TENS & warmth menstrual pain relief machine
This innovative TENS pad has 15, 20-minute intensity level treatments that are designed to support your lower abdomen to help soothe period pain.
This works by sending mild electrical impulses to block any pain messages your body sends out.
The comfortable design allows the pad to stick snug to your body, you could even wear it under clothing without anyone knowing.
Here’s what our customers think
Penny7038 – Great pain relief tool – 5/5 stars
“Me and my two daughters have tried this as we all suffer with painful periods. It has really helped ease the pain we experience. Small and compact can carry it with us and easy to use. Highly recommend”
Ammavc85 – Great natural pain relief – 5/5 stars
“I had never tried anything like this before and was so surprised by how well it worked as a more natural pain relief. It has different settings to choose from which means it can be tailored to individual needs. The warmth is just right, gives a cosy feeling and is comforting too. It's a subtle device and not noticeable to anyone else while you're using it.”
This cleverly designed TENS treatment cuff fits both your knees and elbows to target the most common joint pain.
It has four pre-set programmes each of which can be used up to an intensity level of 20 to get those hard-to-reach places.
The “cuff” style design is perfect for both knees and elbows to allow you to target your joint pain in comfort.
Here’s what our customers think
Dunstonc, Physiotherapist in a box, 5/5 stars
“My own physiotherapist in a box! I’ve had knee pain for years and wish I’d discovered this sooner. Very easy to setup and start using.
You must remember to slightly dampen your knee and the built in pads, two little metal clips connect the control pad to the knee, once connected you select the program you want and the strength of the program, it has an inbuilt timer which counts down the program and automatically turns it off once the program is finished.
You can increase or decrease the intensity of the tens machine, I would recommend starting with a low setting until you get used to the sensation.
I found that I needed to use it regularly to gain the full effects but it has helped with the pain levels.”
Moon5 – Painless – 5/5 stars
"Have been having issues with my knees being painful, and have used a TENS machine on back, so to have one for the knees and elbows is fab.
Comes in a box with batteries so is ready to go.
Pros: everything you need to get going, easy to follow instructions and easy to use. Can use up to 4 programmes and desired intensity of the pulses.
Does not remove pain completely, but makes slightly easier. Lightweight controller which can be attached by a clip on reverse to clothing.
Be aware that the intensity of pulses can change from little short pulses to slightly more intensive longer waves. Would highly recommend if you have knee or elbow issues.
Cons: none. Does as it says on the box, could not comment for elbow as no pains there."
Handpicked content: How to achieve muscle relaxation in the comfort of your own home
You also asked...
There are two main types of electronic stimulation, these are known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS).
TENS or perhaps more notably, TENS machines are more often used for long-term pain as well as acute pain. This works by using electrodes placed on the skin near the source of the pain.
Signals are then sent through nerves to block out or reduce the pain signals travelling to the brain.
EMS uses a slightly stronger current, which gets muscles to contract.
While electrodes are placed on the skin of affected areas in the same way, EMS helps improve muscle strength through contracting rather than attempting to block out pain.
The NHS states that there is not yet enough scientific evidence to be certain whether or not TENS and EMS machines work.
Many health professionals report that while it seems to help some people, it is dependent on the individual and the condition being treated.
Electronic muscle stimulators have been found to work on the following:
- Back pain
- Joint pain
- Muscle conditioning (mostly for athletes, such as long-distance runners)
- Muscle injury from trauma or disease
- Nerve inflammation
- Poor muscle strength
- Urinary incontinence
- Spinal cord injury
- Surgery recovery
Yes, you can build muscle with electrical muscle simulator machines. Electric muscle stimulators work by contracting the muscles, which allows improvement and growth.
TENS machines on the other hand will not help build muscle as they are designed to block out the pain.
As above, there are very few side effects that occur from using electrical stimulation on your muscles.
The most you might get is a rash or irritation if you use a machine that uses an adhesive to attach pads to the affected areas.
Last updated: 16 September 2021