Osteoarthritis, painful periods, muscle strengthening: the success of electrostimulation

Posted on Apr 29, 2022, 6:03 am

It was in his physical therapy that Thomas discovered electrostimulation. “I had tendonitis in my wrist. At first the physio manipulated me a lot later, as soon as he got a little better, he gave me exercises to strengthen my wrist. And we always ended the sessions with electrostimulation to relieve the pain. » Seduced by technology, this 38-year-old computer engineer decided to invest in one of these small devices equipped with electrodes. “It allowed me to continue treatment at home and recover faster”explains this man from Montpellier who wanted to be able to return to Thai boxing as soon as possible.

After physical therapists and athletes, the general public

Electrostimulation consists of “to stimulate nerves and muscles with low or very low frequency electrical currents for analgesic and/or excitomotor purposes”, defines Francis Crépon, professor in several physiotherapy schools and editor of the journal “Scientific Physiotherapy”. It falls under the broader category of electrotherapy, which also includes other techniques such as mechanical and electromagnetic waves. Widely used by physiotherapists and great sportsmen, electrostimulation is now reaching the general public thanks to small devices connected to applications, such as the Compex Mini from the Swiss brand Compex, market leader, or the Bluetens Classic from the French start-up Bluetens.

Though his wrist healed, Thomas continues to use electrostimulation for an analgesic effect. “Since I work a lot on screen, I sometimes have neck pain and various tensions. That’s why I regularly use the TENS mode on my Compex. » TENS currents (for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) are low-frequency, low-intensity currents whose pulses are of very short duration and whose analgesic action is based on a principle known to all: “When you bump into something, you tend to rub that area to relieve the pain. This is exactly what TENS currents reproduce.explains Marc Vanderthommen, professor of physiotherapy at the University of Liège in Belgium.

From osteoarthritis to painful menstruation

“It’s the ‘gate control’ theory or gate theorycontinues Francis Crepon, according to which stimulation of large-diameter cutaneous sensory fibers inhibits, at the level of the posterior horn of the spinal cord, the transmission of painful messages transmitted by small-diameter fibers. » TENS currents are recommended for localized pain: the electrodes should be placed where it hurts and the sensation is tingling. “In the scientific literature, there is evidence of the effectiveness of TENS currents for pain related to osteoarthritis, postoperatively or during painful periods”says Marc Vanderthommen.

It is precisely for this last use that Estelle, a freelance community manager in Aix-en-Provence, uses the Bluetens electrostimulator. “I had already tried a little of everything and really wanted to limit the consumption of medication. I saw that electrostimulation could work and decided to give it a try. I haven’t stopped since because it’s a natural solution that really relieves my period pains”, explains the thirty-year-old, also author of the blog Le Lab’by Estelle. At the beginning of the cycle, during the first two days of her period, she places the electrodes where she feels pain, adjusts the intensity as desired, and starts the program. She repeats the operation as many times as necessary and only takes painkillers very rarely.

Relieve chronic pain

With analgesic electrostimulation, there is no risk of overdose. The main contraindications are pregnancy, pacemaker use and skin lesions. Knowing that there is no danger of burns, specifies Marc Vanderthommen. “TENS currents can be used for a long time, several hours a day, for example, to relieve chronic pain. »Bluetens has like this “Developed ten-hour programs for a client in the Netherlands who saw nearly 30,000 chronic pain patients”explains Cyrille Delahodde, founder of the start-up and responsible for the development.

“It is very desirable for patients to be able to have small portable devices to prolong the effects of electrostimulation, especially as they do not present any particular danger. But it is always preferable that all parameters – frequency, intensity, pulse duration – as well as the placement of the electrodes, are established with a competent professional », Judge Francis Crepon. At Bluetens, a platform dedicated to healthcare professionals was also developed. “They can create content directly in their patients’ app to give them ‘homework'”says the founder.

Helps in muscle building

There is another type of analgesic current, this time based on the release of endorphins. “These are very low frequency and high intensity currents, with long pulses, says Francis Crepon. For this type of electrical stimulation, recommended for the treatment of diffuse pain such as low back pain, neck pain or fibromyalgia, the electrodes must be large, greater than 100 cmtwo. » These chains “they cause muscle contractions, in order to release endorphins, but they are very different from excitomotor currents”adds Marc Vanderthommen.

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Excitomotor electrostimulation, or electrical muscle stimulation (ESM), is the other major use of this technique, which has two main applications: muscle strengthening and muscle recovery. “The scientific literature shows that in terms of reinforcement, electrostimulation is a complementary technique to voluntary contraction and that it is preferable to use it separately from it. This goes a bit against the technological evolution with the emergence of wireless electrostimulators and combinations that allow co-contractions”notes Marc Vanderthommen.

Networks of specialist gyms also developed, such as BodyHit or Iron Bodyfit studios. “These are short twenty-minute training sessions in which you are equipped with vests and straps fitted with electrodes and during which you are accompanied by a state-certified athletic trainer, features Kévin Sanson, founder of BodyHit. It is not a miraculous method but, in parallel with a healthy lifestyle, it allows the body to work in depth and in a very harmonious way. Many of our clients have also noticed a reduction in back pain after two or four weeks of training. »

Post-exercise recovery

Finally, electrostimulation allows you to recover after intense exertion. “For muscle recovery and relaxation, the currents are very low frequency and excite the muscles by pushing, while for muscle strengthening, the currents are low frequency and paralyze the muscles”, explains Francis Crepon. this use “It is quite common among basketball, rugby and football players after a competition, but it is no more effective than traditional recovery, warns Marc Vanderthommen. However, it is better than being passive. » For his part, Thomas has not yet explored the recovery mode of his device, but he knows this function. “Next time I go hiking for a week, I will use it every night to recover better”he promises himself.

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