Healing Using Electromagnetic Therapy Part 2: Electrical Stimulation
This is the second part of a two-part feature focusing on the use of electromagnetic stimulation for women's health physiotherapy. If you've ever heard of using electric muscle stimulation to train the pelvic floor muscles, that's what we're talking about here.
In Part I about healing with the use of electromagnetic therapy, we looked at the top three types of therapeutic modalities: therapeutic ultrasound, laser and INDIBA. These techniques use sound waves, radio waves or light waves to penetrate the skin and reach the deeper tissues.
Electromagnetic therapy might or might not include vibration, heat, light and electricity. They are generally painless, non-invasive treatments that are very safe when conducted by a trained professional.
Of these three, therapeutic ultrasound and INDIBA are normally used within a physiotherapy setting. They are applied to treat a wide range of internal and external symptoms affecting general conditions and pelvic health such as:
- muscle tone
- vaginal problems, like burning, itching, poor hydration or atrophy
- musculoskeletal issues post-pregnancy
Electrical Stimulation in Physical Therapy
Another type of electromagnetic therapy that is widely used in physiotherapy is electrical stimulation, also sometimes called electrotherapy, elec stim, e-stim or EMS (electrical muscle stimulation).
Electrotherapy works by sending an electrical current through the bodily tissues. Depending on the type of therapy applied, it will work on either muscles or nerves. Similar to ultrasound and INDIBA, it can be used to manage pain and inflammation, improve blood flow or strengthen muscles.
Benefits of Electrical Stimulation
Electrotherapy is best used in conjunction with traditional physiotherapy techniques and exercises.
However, with its wide therapeutic value, electrical stimulation can be a useful tool in physiotherapy to treat many different conditions. The benefits of electrical stimulation include:
- builds muscle strength
- improves athletic performance
- improves range of motion
- promotes healing by improving circulation
- speeds up recovery
- reduces build up of fluid
Electrical stimulation is simple to use, portable so you can use it at home and, when it's used properly, it has no side effects.
Electrostimulation is not for everyone, though.
Because electrotherapy is not suitable for everyone, before starting treatment, your physiotherapist will ask you a lot of questions to determine whether this is the appropriate treatment for you. If you're planning to do your own EMS treatments, you should first check with your healthcare provider.
Types of Electrical Stimulation
There are many different types of elec stim used in medical treatments for a variety of problems and conditions. These are the top 5 types of electrical stimulation used for physiotherapy.
1. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) - a familiar type of electrotherapy that is used to decrease pain. Electrodes are placed over the painful area and electrical waves stimulate the nerves to change the pain signals travelling to the brain.
2. IFT/ IFC (interferential therapy / interferential current) - a treatment similar to TENS but the direction of the current can be moved easily and more directly targeted. It is often used when the patient doesn't like the way TENS feels.
3. EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) - EMS is also called NMES (neuromuscular electrical stimulation). This therapy is applied to make muscles contract and is useful for re-training muscles post-surgery, for example. This is also the type of electrotherapy used by vaginal pelvic floor trainers.
4. Russian Stimulation - A similar type of elect stim to EMS but which uses a different type of wave. Russian stimulation got its name from the 1970s when Russian researchers used this technique to improve the performance of Olympic athletes.
5. FES (functional electrical stimulation) - Like NMES, FES is applied to relax muscle spasms, prevent atrophy and re-educate the neuromuscular function. This therapy is generally used with manual exercise to maximise it effects.
Using Electrical Stimulation as a Pelvic Floor Trainer
Unless this is your first visit to our website and blog, then you are likely already familiar with the importance of having a well-exercised pelvic floor. Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause or contribute to several types of problematic pelvic dysfunction, including:
- bladder and/or bowel incontinence
- pelvic organ prolapse
- pain in the pelvic or lower back
- uncomfortable or painful sex
- muscle spasms in the pelvis
Sometimes these problems can be caused by an overly tight pelvic floor. However, more often they are the result of weakness in that area.
Electrotherapy is one way to engage your muscles to identify and exercise the correct part of your anatomy for strengthening your pelvic floor.
How Pelvic Floor Trainers Work
Electric pelvic floor trainers use EMS / NMES to stimulate the nerves and muscles and train them using electrode pads on the skin or probes that are inserted into the vagina or anus. They work by sending electrical pulses within your pelvic area to stimulate the muscles and cause them to contract and relax.
The resting part of the activity is essential to allow your body time to heal and adjust, as over-tight muscles can cause as many problems as weakness.
These trainers are intended to work over an extended period of time to improve the tone and tightness of your pelvic muscles and give your pelvic organs greater support.
Pros and Cons of Electronic Pelvic Floor Trainers
- When you start out doing your pelvic floor exercises manually, it can be difficult to locate the correct muscles, and it can be even more problematic to learn to squeeze them properly — or at all! An electric pelvic floor trainer will contract the muscles for you, so they are great for teaching you how to contract the muscles.
- The machines do the work, so vaginal training stimulators are very easy to use.
- Automatic pelvic floor trainers can't tell you're using the right muscles.
- They also won't spot if the muscles are contracting in the optimum way to perform the strengthening action.
- Depending on the type of machine you use, you won't know if you're reaching the muscle fibres you need to reach.
- It can take a long time before you see an improvement in your symptoms.
Should You Use an Electric Pelvic Floor Trainer?
Applying an electronic trainer for exercising these muscles can be useful at first. This is especially true for women who have extremely weak muscles and who cannot squeeze them. The elec stim can help identify the right muscles and show you how to contract them.
It's worth noting that electrotherapy alone is no more effective — and in many cases, less effective — than manual pelvic floor exercises in addressing pelvic floor dysfunction. If you learn how to do regular pelvic floor exercises in an effective way, you are much more likely to see an improvement in your symptoms, and more quickly.
For more information about electrotherapy in women's health physiotherapy and ways to improve your pelvic floor health, call Magdalena on 07877 017 936 or drop PelviCare an email. Alternatively, you can book an appointment online or find a full list of the treatments available on our website.
PelviCare Women's Health Physiotherapy is located in Greenwich, London, serving women across South London, East London, Essex, Kent and beyond.