Can A TENS Machine Help With Muscle Growth And Body Pain?

Question

Dear Blake,

I have a question on the use of electric stimulation through using a NMES/TENS unit on activating muscle growth. In 1991 when I was nine years old, I received a traumatic brain injury to my left frontal lobe resulting from a car accident I was in.

The brain damage has caused spasticity to continuously to be present all throughout my right side, my biggest problem has been the spasticity in my posterior tibialis area, causing my right foot to turn inward and me walking on my 5th toe causing immense pain.

I have already had four failed surgeries, the last done at The Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, on attempts to stop the inward turning of my foot. From the surgeries and my unusual gait pattern, I have a lot of muscular atrophy in my entire right leg, worsening the farther down you go on the extremity.

While the posterior tibialis area is and always will be spastic (I've tried every antispasmodic medication that exists today), I was wondering what your opinion is on using a NMES/TENS unit on activating my atrophic muscles on the side opposite of the spastic muscles (very weak but extremely toned), such as the anterior tibialis and ultimately the gastrocnemius in an attempt to combat against the inward turning of my foot caused by the extremely powerful spastic muscles on the inner part of my leg, in addition to adding mass to the right leg so it can once again look somewhat similar to my normal left leg.

Thank you very much for your input Blake!

Question Submitted by Jonathan

Response

Hi Jonathan,

Thanks for the question.

Your question is very unique and one that I’ve never tried before.

I’m going to first recommend that you talk to your doctor first and foremost when it comes to treating your leg with a TENS machine.

Since TENS is a medical treatment, you will need to get the go ahead from your doctor or physiotherapist.

Again, I’m not a doctor or registered medical practitioner so it is very important that you understand to consult your doctor about treating your leg.

The only thing I can say on the subject is my personal experience about a TENS machine.

Now, for those of you who don’t know what TENS machine is, it’s a short for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation” which basically sends electrical signals through your skin to your nerves and muscles to get a reaction, which is usually a muscle contraction of some sort.

The main purpose of a TENS machine, is to help reduce pain and discomfort from injuries such as tendinitis, postoperative pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic musculoskeletal pain. A TENS machine usually has 4 electrodes attached to four “sticky” pads which is applied to the affected area. There is a main hub which is usually battery operated which sends electrical signals to the electrodes to be sent to the affected area. See the image below:

I’ve used TENS in the past for my shoulder tendinitis. At the time, I was seeing a physiotherapist for my shoulder and using a TENS machine at the clinic. From what the therapist said, the TENS machine was meant to help my muscles “relearn” how to function properly. That is, I was using other muscles to compensate for my injury so my injured muscles were actually getting weaker because I wasn’t using them because of the pain. The TENS machine was meant to help these weaker muscles get stronger through electrical stimulation and how to function properly again.

You see, my injury is very common among strength trainers such as body builders, power lifters and weight lifters. The pain was all on the front of the shoulder but the actually injury happen in the back, on the scapula bone. From all my years of heavy lifting, the bone actually slid downward and by doing this, it brought the attached sub scapularis muscle with it. The sub scapularis muscle actually ends it’s attachment to the front of the shoulder. So, when my scapula dropped it forced the muscle to drop and that caused a tremendous amount of friction on the front of my shoulder. Think of it like an elastic that has really, really stretched.

Because my rotator cuff muscles hurt when they were used, they were getting weaker and weaker. I had to electronically stimulate them to get them working again. This was done with a TENS machine.

The first thing I noticed about the TENS treatment was how it made my injury feel. At first, it feels like there are small vibrations in the muscle tissue. Afterwards, the stimulation went a little deeper and it felt like the whole muscle tightened up. How did it feel? Ever see how a cat looks after you’ve rubbed it under the chin? Well, that was how I looked. Because of the pain I was in, the stimulation made the whole area pain free. It felt like someone was deep massaging the affected area.

Now, when I used the TENS machine, I hooked up two electrodes to the back scapula where the actual muscle attachment was and two electrodes to the front of the shoulder. I actually purchased a TENS machine for about 100 bucks. I used the machine two times per day. Once in the morning and one in the evening. After the first week, my shoulder (in conjunction to the proper exercises), my shoulder started to feel better. After the 6th week, my shoulder felt great and I actually had a lot more mobility. After the 10th week, my shoulder felt 80 percent better. Of course, I’m not going to say that it was all the TENS because I was actually doing strengthening exercises for my scapula to bring it back up to par. There were three specific exercises I was doing for that area and I performed these exercise each and every day.

So, Jonathan, my advice to you is to work with a qualified physiotherapist who has seen similar injuries and to get a on a specific strengthening program for that area and work with a TENS program. I’m saying a physiotherapist because they will actually help you heal and strengthen the weakened area (ask your physician first). All I can say about the TENS treatment was that it helped strengthen the affected area and to help alleviate the pain. When I used the TENS in conjunction with a strengthening program for that area, it made all the difference in the world. However, I wouldn’t rely solely on the TENS machine to tone and build the muscle up. Talk to your doctor and physiotherapist first.

I hope this helped,

Blake









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