by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Electrical Stimulation Therapy


Electrical stimulation (e-stim) is the use of a device to send gentle electrical pulses through the skin.

Two common devices are:

  • Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) to help repair muscles
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to help with pain

E-stim may be done in an office or at home.

Reasons for Procedure

E-stim may be used to repair muscles or to help with pain from:

Thigh Muscle
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Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen. The problems a person may have depend on the reason for the procedure.

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

  • Heart problems
  • Seizures
  • Pregnancy

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
  • Whether you have any implanted devices, such as a pacemaker

Description of Procedure

Small sticky pads will be placed around the site. Wires from the e-stim device will be attached to the sticky pads.

The device will be turned on at a low setting. The setting will be raised until you sense a pins and needles feeling. An EMS device will also cause a small twitch in the muscle. The strength of the EMS may be adjusted throughout your treatment as your body gets used to the feeling.

How Long Will It Take?

E-stim may last 5 to 15 minutes. It depends on the reason it is being used.

Will It Hurt?

You may feel a tingly or warm feeling during e-stim. The feelings are strange but should not be painful.

Post-procedure Care

At Home

Follow the pain or rehabilitation program given to you by your care team.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Redness or swelling at the site where the sticky pads were placed
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Cancer Society 

American Chronic Pain Association 


Canadian Cancer Society 

Chronic Pain Association of Canada 


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Physical therapy for osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 14, 2020.

Resende L, Merriwether E, Rampazo E, et al. Meta-analysis of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for relief of spinal pain. Eur J Pain. 2018;22(4):663-678.

TENS machines. Patient UK website. Available at: Accessed October 14, 2020.

Revision Information