Can EMS stimulation devices actually help condition you as well as help you recover from hard workouts or is this just one more expensive fad? This was the question I had after a series of communications on the topic.
Awhile back I posted articles on recovery and conditioning and related the research on several modalities (aqua running, massage, ice baths, etc.). Subsequent to that I was contacted by a gentleman – Giovanni Ciriani – from Globus Corporation. They make an electromuscular stimulation or EMS device. The gist of the contact was that they have conducted studies which show even better recovery from workouts with EMS than all other modalities. Furthermore, their device has been shown as beneficial in playing a role in actual conditioning of the athlete – not just recovery.
EMS Basics Kick Start
I will not go into the detailed science behind how EMS works. Go here for that. EMS is different than a TENS unit. TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) is primarily used for pain relief or control. EMS units innervate muscles to contract in order to elicit variable strength muscle contractions. The devices are FDA approved. You do not need a doctor’s prescription to obtain or use one. However, I will tell you that training on its use is essential. It is stated that “EMS is used for rehabilitation purposes, for instance in the prevention of disuse muscle atrophy” as well as conditioning, addressing muscle spasms and improve range of motion.
I responded to Giovanni about my skepticism. The main level of skepticism is that of course he represents the company and most of the research is sponsored or conducted by them. Not that it isn’t relevant or valid – but – anyone who has something to sell of course will show you only what promotes their product and can hardly be held up as objective. The studies however are compelling in general. Giovanni says, “The main reason that many (or most) practitioners are skeptical, and a good portion of peer-reviewed studies dispute results, is that EMS is not simple and has to be done correctly. Utilizing the correct stimulation programs is part of the answer (there are half a dozen parameters to be set correctly), and that’s why our machine and other serious competitor like Compex enjoy some success: the programs for different athletic goals are already there, putting results within reach. However, you still need to know what to do, and have enough background in sport science and experience to use those programs in a way consistent with what the body needs.”
I was impressed both by his candor and his offer to let me try out the unit and see for myself if it works. OK, that sounded like a deal. I’m coming back from chronic little injuries (quads, hams, Achilles) over the past year now and have not been able to run consistently. Therefore, muscularly I have lost a lot of tone and strength – most specifically in my quads. This has resulted in very slow progress in my conditioning. This is my Experiment of One I have so often referred to in my articles.
Past injuries are the best predictor of future injuries. Something to keep in mind on the injury front is that most runners get re-injured because they do not completely rehabilitate and strengthen muscle groups after an injury. That is why when they return to running they are more likely to be re-injured (even if it is not the same injury – because of compensation). Rest alone does not correct the underlying problem.
One of my interests is to see if strengthening my quads can reduce or eliminate this chronic problem for me. Over the past year, my quads have chronic pain- just above the knee cap. It’s a tendonitis and attachment area pain. The initial injury (hill work in the summer of 08) has long been healed but the residual weaknesses are there. Because of this I have compensated and had other niggling injuries.
My next post will detail my 6-week update – what I have done and some results. And I will give a review of the EMS unit itself.