Electrical Stimulation

Electrical Stimulation Therapy

E-lek-trik-ul Stim-u-lay-shun


Electrical stimulation (e-stim) is the use of a device to send gentle electrical pulses through the skin into local tissue.

There are 2 main types of devices based on the tissue they stimulate.

  • Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to help rehabilitate muscles
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to help manage pain

E-stim may be delivered in a medical office or with home devices.

Reasons for Procedure    TOP

Electrical stimulation may be used to rehabilitate muscles or to manage pain due to conditions such as:

Thigh Muscle

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Possible Complications    TOP

Potential problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

Note : Electrical stimulation is not recommended for people with heart problems, seizures, or women who are pregnant.

Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications.

What to Expect    TOP

Prior to Procedure

Your doctor will likely do a physical exam before your procedure.

Certain medications may cause complications during the procedure or recovery. Talk to your doctor before the procedure about all medications or supplements you are taking.

Description of Procedure

Small adhesive pads, called electrodes, will be placed around the area that needs treatment. Wires from the e-stim device will be attached to the pads.

The device will be turned on at a low setting and increased until you feel some tingling. An EMS device will also cause a small contraction in the muscle. The intensity may be adjusted throughout your treatment period as your body adjusts to the sensation.

How Long Will It Take?    TOP

The procedure may last 5-15 minutes, depending on the reason you need to have it done.

How Much Will It Hurt?    TOP

You may feel a tingly or warm sensation during the procedure. The sensations can feel strange but should not be painful.

Post-procedure Care    TOP

At Home

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    TOP

Call your doctor if any of these occur:

  • Redness or swelling at the site where the electrodes 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


Canadian Cancer Society
Chronic Pain Association of Canada


Electrical stimulation. University of California San Diego website. Available at:
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Accessed June 23, 2015.
Guide to controlling cancer pain. American Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed June 23, 2015.
TENS machines. Patient UK website. Available at:
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Updated June 14, 2012. Accessed April 14, 2014.
7/23/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
...(Click grey area to select URL)
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 June 2016 by James Cornell, MD
Last Updated: 7/23/2014

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