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There are a number of procedures that one may attempt to help treat their pain, and one method is called e-stim (short for electrical stimulation). But what is it, and how well does it even work?

What is E-Stim?

Essentially, e-stim is a system by which the neural signals are reproduced through electric pulses to target the muscles and/or nerves. The purpose of this is to cause contractions in either the muscles or nerves, thereby stimulating bloodflow and helping repair any injured muscles. In addition to such recovery, it can also be used to help stroke survivors relearn basic motor functions.

How does E-Stim work?

The electric pulses are delivered via small, sticky electrodes on the skin (which come off with relatively little discomfort). Where pulses meant for the muscles are meant to stimulate them, pulses for the nerves are meant to block pain signals from transmitting to the brain, and increase endorphin production. During the process, the patient will feel a “pins and needles” effect.

Types of E-Stim

If you wind up trying out e-stim, you will usually have one of two methods variants used. These types are known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). These variants are distinguished by the method used and the individual’s needs.

TENS can be used to treat both chronic and acute pain. The process behind TENS involves sending signals through nerve fibers via electrodes placed on the skin near where it hurts. EMS, meanwhile, utilizes slightly stronger currents to cause the muscles to contract. The currents are set to a rhythmic pace, and can be used by the user to increase muscular strength via manual contraction of the relevant muscles.

There are other methods, however, and whatever type of e-stim is best for you will ultimately depend on your individual circumstances. Contact your doctor or physical therapist to discuss this.

Risks and benefits

E-stim is used to treat conditions such as back pain, cancer-related pain, arthritis, and more. However, it may be unsafe to use if you have a heart condition or pacemaker. Ultimately, however, various studies (such as a 2019 study covering spinal cord stimulation) have found people who benefited from using e-stim.

Despite these studies, it should not be treated as a silver bullet for relieving pain, and there are still some skeptics in the healthcare community. It would be fair though to say that it is at least not a pseudoscience, as there is some merit to its use as part of a broad set of tools.