2 The Square at Lillington
Lillington, NC 27546
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The Use of Electrical Stimulation in Physical Therapy

What is Electrotherapy?

While it may sound a bit intimidating, electrical stimulation really isn’t at all! When used correctly and provided under the guidance of a skilled Physical Therapist, electrical stimulation is a safe and effective modality that can be used to treat a variety of conditions. And it feels awesome!

Electrical stimulation devices use self-adhesive electrodes placed around the painful area on the body. These electrodes are connected via wire leads to the unit, through which electricity can pass and ultimately interact with sensory and/or motor nerves (depending on the type of current utilized).

What is Electrotherapy Used for in Physical Therapy?

There are several electrical stimulation modes that use different types of currents intended to stimulate different nerves in a variety of specific ways. These include modes such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), interferential, pre-modulated, Russian, and symmetrical or asymmetrical bi-phasic. Don’t let the words confuse you, though. Your physical therapist will decide the right one to meet your unique needs.

Our clinic frequently utilizes electrical stimulation in order to provide a variety of beneficial healing effects, including:

  • Reduce, eliminate, and/or control pain (both acute and chronic)
  • Increase local circulation
  • Decrease swelling
  • Improve range of motion
  • Reduce muscle spasm
  • Provide biofeedback (aka improve body awareness)
  • Improve motor coordination
  • Provide neuromuscular re-education
  • Prevent or reverse muscle atrophy (especially after prolonged immobilization, such as a limb being casted as a fracture heals)

Pain control and reduction is probably the most frequent indication of electrical stimulation usage. Specifically, this modality can trigger an innate and completely natural analgesic effect by stimulating specific sensory nerve fibers (including A-beta, A-delta, and C fibers) which both disrupt or decrease the sensation of pain and also elicit the release of certain neurotransmitters which can prolong the pain-relieving effects.

While it’s not for everyone (including people with deep vein thrombosis, people who are pregnant, people with pacemakers, and people with impaired cognition) or safe to use on every body area (including on the anterior neck, eyes, or over areas with damaged skin or decreased sensation), electrical stimulation can be used for a wide variety of conditions as indicated, including acute sports-related or auto accident-related injuries, repetitive stress injuries, muscle strains, ligament sprains, and even neurological conditions including stroke.

Does Electrical Muscle Stimulation Hurt?


The intensity of the electrical muscle stimulation or sensory nerve stimulation is set to a comfortable setting. Typically, electrical stimulation will feel tingly or prickly (some patients describe it as a comforting “pins and needles” sensation). Sometimes, as in the case when used for muscle strengthening, the intensity level can be high and somewhat uncomfortable, but it should never cause pain.

What Should I Expect During an Electrotherapy Session?

Our patients’ comfort, safety, and dignity are the number one priority. For this reason, we’ll ask you to come in comfortable loose-fitting clothes and sturdy shoes when you come to see us for an appointment.

If your physical therapist decides that electrical stimulation is an appropriate part of your plan of care, he or she will let you know what to expect and how it will feel. You’ll be asked to sit or lie in a comfortable position, your skin in the treatment area will be cleaned and prepped, and your PT will guide you step-by-step through the entire treatment.


Many people love Estim. It’s a great natural way to improve pain, muscle spasms, swelling and other issues. In fact it works so well that many health insurance companies will pay for you to have one at home. If you are one of the many people that Estim helps, please ask us about how you can get a unit to use at home!

Expect Great Results!

Are you interested in trying electrical stimulation? Wondering if it can help your pain or dysfunction? Our physical therapy services, including electrical stimulation and other modalities, are evidenced-based, state-of-the-art, effective, and have minimal to no risk of side effects. Come experience the difference and Contact Us TODAY at Total Body Therapy & Wellness in Lillington, NC to schedule an initial appointment.

I AM NOW PAIN FREE! I came to TBTW for neck pain and muscle spasms. The pain was keeping me from sleeping the whole night. I would end up sleeping in the recliner. I was using over the counter muscle relaxing rubs, and other kinds of rubs, lotions and ointments to reduce the pain. They only worked for a short time. Coming to TBTW was the best thing I ever did to get relief. The staff is wonderful and very knowledgeable and caring. The best part after a session was the massage, TENS unit treatment, and heat or ice – just what was needed after a session. I am now pain free and “graduating” to home exercises. I know that I have to follow the exercise routine at home. TBTW has given me the knowledge to continue to heal – and it is up to me to follow that routine. TBTW – They will help you heal!”

– Wilma J. Harper, TBTW Patient