All The Benefits Of E-Stim, The Must-Know Recovery Tool

Our very own Gus Gutierrez, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, recently spoke with Bustle about E-Stim and the benefits of its usage for recovery, read on below!

All The Benefits Of E-Stim, The Must-Know Recovery Tool

If you’ve ever undergone physical therapy, your therapist may have used electrical stimulation, or e-stim, as part of your treatment plan. Essentially, e-stim involves placing electrodes on parts of your body, which are connected to a device that sends electrical signals to them. These signals work to relieve pain of all sorts — which is why you’re seeing more folks use this kind of tech at the gym or even at home as part of their recovery routine.

Sure, it may sound strange, but it’s not like you’re being hooked up for a Frankenstein-like science experiment. E-stim devices are small and consist of pads that stick to your skin and attach to wires that you control with a remote. In the wellness world, they’re becoming an increasingly popular tool used for everything from backaches to sore muscles (even Therabody, the brand behind the cult favorite Theragun, makes one). According to industry data from MarketWatch, the e-stim market size is estimated to be worth over $5,683 million with an estimated annual growth rate of 3.8% thanks to consumer interest in pain management.

But what is e-stim, exactly? Read on for everything to know about the buzzy recovery device taking over the fitness world.

What Is E-Stim?

There are two main types of e-stim therapy: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (there’s a reason people just call it TENS), which uses electrical signals to help relieve both acute and chronic pain; and neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), which helps jumpstart muscle contractions. Therapists typically use the latter on those healing from an injury or surgery to help keep a muscle from atrophying while they’re unable to use it.

E-stim therapies like TENS work because they interrupt the nerve-to-brain pain cycle in your brain, kind of like when you bump your elbow and then rub it so it feels better, explains Gus Gutierrez, PT, DPT, OCS, FAAOMPT, of Baton Rouge Physical Therapy. But research suggests that e-stim also helps the body produce more of its own endorphins, which help with pain and are “much, much stronger” than any medications, Gutierrez says. A 2021 review of research on TENS concluded that while many of the studies out there lack sufficient data, some do show a benefit in pain reduction.

Benefits Of E-Stim


If you have any persistent pain issues, Gutierrez recommends TENS as a noninvasive, relatively affordable, and medication-free option for relief. It can help with everything from sore muscles to back and neck (or anywhere else) pain, stiffness that comes from hunching over your laptop all day — and also period pain. For example, Therabody, which has an app you can pair with its PowerDot device to stream guided sessions, recently released a program dedicated specifically to menstrual pain; a company representative says you’ll feel relief within a 20-minute session.


NMES, on the other hand, basically replicates what your brain sends to your muscles when you’re exercising. While Gutierrez says it’s primarily used for post-op and injury treatment, it’s also beneficial to others: The muscle contractions stimulate blood flow, and this promotes quicker healing — aka faster recovery from tough workouts.

What’s It Like To Use E-Stim?

You don’t need a PT prescription or an advanced degree to try e-stim. These days, you can browse from a new generation of small, tech-advanced devices for at-home use, most of which focus on TENS and NMES (such as Therabody’s PowerDot and the VPOD Muscle Stimulator). These gadgets allow you to adjust placement and intensity, so you can find the right fit for your needs.

If you’re wondering if you’re going to feel like you’re being electrocuted, Gutierrez promises that’s not the case. “If applied correctly, it will feel like a tingling sensation on your skin,” he explains. “It feels kind of weird, but also feels kind of good.” A Therabody representative likens it to that tingly feeling you get when your foot is starting to fall asleep, but not full pins and needles. Gutierrez says you may experience some discomfort at higher intensities, especially with NMES, but “no type of electrical stimulation should be painful.”

While it looks like an advanced tool — and began as something you could solely professionals could use — e-stim is totally safe to use at home. Plus, many devices (including both the PowerDot and VPOD) come with an app that walks you through where to place the electrodes depending on your concern and guides you through each session. That said, Gutierrez notes you can always make a one-off appointment with a local physical therapist if you want more info on how to use or adjust any device you’ve purchased.

Just don’t use an e-stim device if you think you may be pregnant. It’s also not for people with any sort of electric implant, like a pacemaker, those with certain cancers, or anywhere where you have decreased sensation. For most people, e-stim therapy can be used multiple times a day and comes with little to no side effects; the most common one is irritation from the adhesive used on the electrode pads. If you’re going to be hitting the same spot a couple of times in one day, like your abdomen for cramps, you can leave the pads on all day and reattach the electrodes when you need them. Pain relief that kicks in quickly and is cheaper and more practical than regular massages? It’s certainly worth trying.


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