EMS (Electric Muscle Stimulation) involves involuntary muscle contractions due to the application of electric pulses. These pulses are applied via electrodes placed on the skin. It is most commonly used to supplement an athlete’s exercise program, not as a recovery tool.
Electric Muscle Stimulation Research
There have been a broad range of studies that all seem to prove that EMS is effective at improving “maximal strength, speed strength, jumping, sprinting & power” (Filipovic et al, 2011). This is backed up by (Babault et al, 2007), (Banerjee et al, 1985) & (Porcari et al, 2005). They all test slightly different parameters but all conclude that EMS improves strength in a number of areas. However, little research has been conducted on its effect on muscle recovery. A study in 1999 concluded that EMS, was not an effective method of reducing pain or loss of ROM associated with muscle soreness (Allen et al, 1999). However the study only comprised 18 participants and results were based on subjective pain perception measurements, which would inherently produce inaccurate results. Further research needs to be carried out to determine if EMS can be used to reduce muscle soreness. The general premise of recovery products is that they promote local blood flow to the working muscle. The US FDA recognises that EMS products do this, so it is possible that it could be used for aiding recovery.
If using EMS as a training or recovery tool, positioning or placement of the electrodes is vital, however the size or shape of the electrodes has no effect. “This data supports the importance of determining the actual motor point before placement of the stimulating electrode pad prior to the administration of ES, but refute the common concept that pad size and shape have any meaningful relationship to tolerance of ES” (Forrester & Petrofsky, 2004).