Electric Muscle Stimulation: Why Do It Yourself Devices Don't Work

What is Electrical Muscle Stimulation?

Electrical Muscle Stimulation (also known as EMS) or Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES) is a relatively new non-surgical and non-invasive treatment which uses a device or machine to deliver a pulsed electric current to the body externally in order to activate the muscles and stimulate them into repeatedly contracting (tightening) and relaxing in the same way as they would during voluntary contractions such as when you exercise or go to the gym.

The reason muscle stimulation devices contract your muscles when placed against the skin is because our muscles naturally contract in response to electrical signals sent by the brain. 

Essentially, EMS devices replicate the body's natural electrical impulses in order to ‘fool’ the brain that the targeted muscle is being used.  

The Proliferation Of At-Home Devices

These days you only need to do a quick google search to know that the market has been flooded with muscle stimulation devices, all promising to give you rock hard abs without breaking a sweat. 

With so many choices (and all of them using different abbreviations such as TENS, EMS or NMES), it’s easy to become confused on what the differences are and which ones actually work!

When it comes to at-home devices, there are two main categoriesTENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), and EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation).

At-home devices using TENS technology deliver mild electrical pulses directly to the skin to target sensory nerves that delivers pain signals from the body to the brain. The goal with TENS is to ‘overload’ the nerves with ongoing electrical pulses in order to provide temporary pain relief and relax tensed muscles. 

TENS Key Takeaway: TENS devices are primarily used for muscle pain relief however they do not actively stimulate muscle contractions or activity.

The second category of at-home devices are those which use EMS technology. 

These devices place electrodes on the skin surface in order to deliver electrical impulses through the skin to the motor nerve to stimulate muscle contractions. 

The experience (sensation) of this can often be uncomfortable (and in some cases, painful) due to the sensory nerves picking up pain signals as it passes through the skin. As a result of this, the level of electrical stimulation (and subsequent muscle contraction) that can be achieved using at-home EMS devices is very low.

EMS Key Takeaway: Simply put, the strength (intensity) of the contractions that at-home EMS devices can deliver isn’t enough to build muscle.

Electromagnetic Field Technology

Devices for muscle stimulation that you would find in a clinic environment (such as StimSure) use the same base technology as EMS, but instead of using electrodes to pass the electric pulses directly to the skin, it uses an electromagnetic field to send electrical signals to the nerve to cause the muscle to contract.


Because StimSure uses electromagnetic field technology, it can deliver ‘maximal tetanic contractions’ which are significantly more intense than what can be achieved using at-home devices.

In fact, one StimSure session is the same as doing over 24,000 squats or crunches in under 30-minutes!

Watch StimSure in Action

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Whilst at-home devices are often seen as more affordable (when used over a longer period of time) in comparison to having your treatment performed in a clinic, as they aren’t able to deliver the same level of muscle stimulation, the results you will see (if any) will be minimal.


To learn more about StimSure for muscle stimulation, or to discuss your options with one of our qualified Therapists, book your Free Consultation today!

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