Integrating electrostimulation into sports and exercise recovery.
My doctor once joked when I asked her what is the best approach to muscle pain management: “Don’t get hurt.” If you’re a physically active American, that may be hard to avoid. Research from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows that more than 8.6 million Americans get injured from sports and recreational activities annually, some of which leads to long-term physical therapy and pain management regimens.
In our first blog post in this series we discussed how electrostimulation therapies like Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS or Muscle Stim) delivered through consumer-friendly devices are providing much-needed drug-free alternatives for managing pain. In this next installment, we’ll discuss tips for avoiding activity-induced injuries in the first place, and how the same technologies can aid in their prevention.
First, it’s important to understand how TENS and EMS differ. TENS stimulates the nerves, using electrical pulses to block pain signals to the brain. EMS stimulates muscle tissue directly, to help strengthen healthy muscles and provides additional muscle-specific benefits. Both therapies can serve the active user in injury prevention and recovery. And some newer wearables, connected health devices – like BewellConnect’s MyTens – integrate both modalities in one consumer-friendly solution.
Tips for preventing injuries
1. Warm up – The first tip requires no technology at all. While it may seem like a no-brainer to warm up before exercise and cardiovascular activities, many people ditch this simple step in the interest of time, or out of sheer laziness. Cold muscles are more prone to getting hurt. The American College of Sports Medicine says that a warm up is needed to prepare the body for exercise by increasing heart rate and blood flow to working muscles.
- Strengthen muscles – Strengthening core muscle groups is one the best ways to reduce an active person’s risk of injury. Strengthening healthy muscles through electrical stimulation can increase the amount of muscle contractions beyond what an athlete is able to do on his/her own, which can help grow muscle strength at a faster rate. That’s because EMS helps perform a complete muscle contraction.
- Runner’s recovery – If you’re a long-distance runner you know that pain is an inevitable price of your hard work. The good news is that runners can use a TENS/EMS device to help recover after a run. TENS can help provide post-run relief by dulling the pain pathways, while EMS can help accelerate muscle recovery. According to strength and conditioning coach, Doug Dupont, Director of Performance Training and Marketing at Peak Performance Vermont “Some of your capillaries, which are the blood vessels between arteries and veins, are so small that blood cells have to travel through single-file. When you exercise, the muscle tissues start to swell, and when this happens, blood flow to these tiny blood vessels can be cut off. These effects on blood flow can reduce both acute recovery and between-workout recovery. Metabolic waste products can back up in the muscles and valuable nutrients can’t get in.”
- Part of the workout routine – Electrostimulation therapies aren’t just for post-exercise rehab. Using EMS during a workout is a growing fitness trend that could potentially reduce injuries by increasing muscle density, strength, and the amount of oxygen consumed by the body.
- Contrast therapy – Some athletes and trainers believe that alternating between cold therapies (e.g. ice packs, ice baths, cryotherapy, etc.) and hot therapies (e.g heat packs) is an effective approach to post-exercise recovery. Combining cold and hot therapies can stimulate blood flow in a controlled way by drawing blood into a painful area with heat and pushing it out with cold. In our next and final post of this blog series we will be venturing away from the fitness world and diving into the topic of dealing with pain at work and techniques for how to prevent it.