Different forms of electrotherapy have long been used to reduce muscular pain or to stimulate and tone muscles for individuals suffering from injury or paralysis. Beginning in the 1970s, the tightening and toning effects of electronic muscle stimulation attracted the attention of health centers and spas that saw the potential to use the technology as a convenient and fast means of getting into shape.
Electronic Muscle Stimulation
Also referred to as EMS, the treatments are offered in aesthetically pleasing and comfortable environments while the client relaxes on a massage or spa table. During the first facility visit, staff members typically obtain baseline body measurements, body fat percentage and overall weight of new clients. Problem areas are discussed and the technician often offers suggestions or recommendations for treatment. Treatments span 30 to 60 minutes, and treatment plans involve receiving EMS two to three times a week for up to six weeks. The effects of therapy reportedly last up to six months.
The EMS equipment consists of the central unit that emits the impulses and the conductive pads that contain the electrodes. The pads come in different shapes and sizes to conform to the shape of various body regions. Pads are specially designed for abdominal, buttocks or thigh muscles. Clients should only obtain treatments at reputable facilities staffed by trained and certified technicians. If the EMS impulse is not administered correctly, clients may suffer deep bruising or tears at the muscle/tendon conjunctions. Pre-existing injuries might also become worse. At high enough intensity levels, skin surfaces suffer burns.
The current emitted by EMS devices causes a muscle contraction that requires energy. Nearby fat cells serve as the energy source. Each impulse is also thought to reduce unsightly cellulite and release toxins that travel to the genitourinary system and are eliminated. The depth of the muscle stimulation reportedly tightens underlying muscles, which improves skin tone.
Effects and possible weight loss vary from one client to the next. However, the average client loses up to 13 pounds after one month of treatments. Along with EMS therapy, clients must also adhere to a recommended dietary and exercise plan. EMS supposedly enhance the benefits of weight training for anyone interested in gaining overall muscle strength. Commonly treated body areas include the arms, abdomen, buttocks, thighs and knees.
EMS devices have FDA approval for use by licensed physical therapists as part of rehabilitation treatment. The FDA advises that while electrical stimulation may initiate firming or strengthening of one or more muscle groups, the effect is temporary. The administration also question the validity of actual muscle toning or weight loss. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin's Human Performance Lab evaluated EMS treatments with the assistance of 29 college students. Baseline measurements and weights were obtained for the entire group. After a two-month period, the group receiving EMS treatments had no significant changes in body weight, body fat percentage, muscle appearance or strength.