I am not a medical doctor. This is not medical advice, and should not be used in place of a physicians recommendation. Please consult with your physician in regards to use of EMS machines.
A couple years ago I got very curious about the alternate use of electronic muscle stimulation as I was hearing claims of it being able to build muscle without exercise. I found the answer, and it is not the one anyone wants to hear.
Yes it can build muscle, but no you should not go out and buy one for yourself and throw it on your back in hopes of getting buff. As appealing as it sounds to lay on your couch and get ripped, it is another case of “too good to be true”.
The basic function of these machines is to cause muscles to contract by stimulating them with electrical impulses. This is often used by physiotherapists in muscle recovery. Please note that a trained professional can place the pads in the appropriate place to engage the proper muscles. But an individual who is untrained might place the pad in the wrong place or set the machine incorrectly and cause damage to the muscles.
Now in a study directly related to muscle augmentation done on mice, the researchers found that with change to diet and closely controlled settings, they could cause muscle increase in the mice through EMS. Once again, these are professionals who are very careful with their placement, exposure times, diet and settings for the machines. The gains in musculature in the mice was lower than the muscle gain that would be achieve by actively using their muscles in exercise.
Products exist that claim to build muscle while you lay on the couch through the use of EMS machines, but reality is, walking and lifting weights is not only much more efficient, it is also safer, as the average individual does not have the training and knowledge appropriate to use these machines safely. Should muscle contractions be too strong, tears can occur. Should multiple overlapping muscles engage at once, strains and bulges can occur. The use of these machines should be limited to those with the appropriate training to use them safely.
Please do not engage in the use of EMS machines without the instruction of your physician, and only in the case where a physician has recommended them to you. These products are so widely available that they may seem safe, but in reality they can cause a lot of problems, and provide very little benefit to the user for muscle gain.
If you really want to build muscle, eat a protein rich diet, exercise often, lift appropriately to your strength and ensure you stretch to maintain flexibility. Stay hydrated and have some fun working out!
Now after all these warnings, there are medical uses for these devices, and they are not inherently unsafe. There are many uses that are beneficial to the patient, and should a physician use one on you, you can feel safe that they are well trained and are doing what they can to help you with your ailment. This post was designed to educate about the risks of using them for muscle gain without the supervision of a physician, and should not be taken as an absolutist statement against the machines as a medical tool.