Definition | Reasons for Procedure | Call Your Doctor


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

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

Thigh Muscle

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Possible Complications

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

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.

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.

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

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

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

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.