Electrical Stimulation

Electrical Stimulation

What Is Electrical Stimulation?

Electrical stimulation is a physical therapy treatment that involves passing an electric current through muscle using surface electrodes. While it may sound counterintuitive, this treatment is very effective in relieving pain and swelling.

Electrical stimulation is often administered underneath a vasopneumatic device––a machine that pumps cold water into a brace to cool and compress the administered area. The combination of these two treatments can effectively reduce pain and swelling in one session, which typically lasts from 10 to 20 minutes in length.

Electrical Stimulation: Example Treatments

How it Works

There are a few types of electrical stimulation that are administered in different medical fields, each with a different purpose. The kind typically administered by physical therapy practices is called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (or NMES), which has several benefits for injury rehabilitation. Patients are also usually given the option to purchase a battery-powered TENS unit (transcutaneus electrical neuromuscular stimulation unit), which is used primarily for pain management.

In Yakima, Central Washington Physical Therapy can administer NMES therapy as part of clinical treatment and usually stocks TENS units for individual purchase.


Within physical therapy terminology, the phrase “electrical stimulation” typically refers to NMES. In this form of electrical simulation, electrodes are attached to the skin in specific locations to target muscle groups with an electric current. When the machine is turned on, the affected muscles contract. The therapist will usually set the machine to an alternating current so the muscle will contract and relax repeatedly, though they can also set a steady current at specific levels of intensity.

Electrical Stimulation Benefits

  • The currents applied to pained area help stimulate the nerves and block out pain reception, resulting in a rapid decrease in both acute and chronic pain levels.
  • The forced contractions help condition the muscle for future use.
  • The muscle contractions also increase blood flow to the area, promoting the body’s natural healing process.
  • After the treatment, the muscles are left in a more relaxed state, effectively stopping painful muscles spasms.


TENS units are not as effective as full NMES therapy, but they are an affordable, mobile alternative. Because they are smaller and battery-powered, they can’t generate as strong of a current. That isn’t to say they aren’t useful; TENS units are effective in pain reduction, much like NMES therapy. The tradeoff for the convenience of their size and price is that they can’t stimulate strong muscle contractions like NMES can.

If you suffer from acute or chronic pain, electrical stimulation may help you. Contact Central Washington Physical Therapy below to see if this treatment can help relieve your pain.