Bzzt, tzBzt, Bzzt, Muscles! (electro muscle stimulation)

I am addicted to TV shop, it’s ok though as I don’t have a credit card :smiley:

They sell a device that you stick to your body and it shocks your muscle, causing it to contract. I was wondering if these work, how they work and if they can be dangerous?

I understand that they will not make me lose weight and will not make me stronger, but only have an effect on muscle definition/tone (if anything at all).

Almost all the sites I have found are selling the equipment, so I thought I would turn to the one source I can trust! What is the straight dope on this?

Muscle stimulators like you see on TV are scaled down versions of the types of muscle stimulator used in Physical Therapy after a severe injury (think paralysis) or surgery (seen a lot with sports work related injuries like muscle tearing). The types used in PT require a doctors prescription and proffesional training and/or treatment as they can be quite dangerous. They work by application of an electical current through contact with the skin via electrodes with a type of gel is used to improve current flow with the skin. Improper use could cause burns or muscle injuries. They are primarily used to prevent muscle atrophy, and do in fact cause muscles to contract by application of an electrical current.

The types sold on TV don’t put out the same current levels, though they do in fact cause muscles to contract. Since the whole point of muscle stimulators is to prevent atrophy (i.e. musclular wasting/deterioration) use as an exercise device are dubious at best. Additionally I don’t believe they’re regulated to a great degree, and I have heard of incidents of injuries related to their use.

Just FYI, there is a second type of this device called a T.E.N.S. (Transcutanous Electrical Nerve Stumulation) . These are used to provide pain relief for back and dental (thoug it’s been some time since I’ve seen the dental type) pain. Application of small electrical currents block pain impulses to the surrounding nerves. The current levels are much less and they can used in some cases for hours at a time as opposed to a muscle stimulator of which treatments tend to be in the 15-30 minute range.

ARGHH!! I swear I previewed. Please excuse the spelling errors. :smack:

Short answer: they’re crap, and if you buy one, people will laugh at you.

Long answer: see the previous posts.

Here’s a question I always wondered, along the same lines: what is the difference between a muscle contraction from real exercise, and one caused by the electro-belt? Some aspect of real exercise is obviously not re-created with the electro-shocks, but what is it? Intensity of the contraction? Duration? Something else?

Oh, and here’s an amusing story: one time a friend of mine was going to buy one of those ab-shocker belts and leave it on all night to get a six-pack that much quicker. I had to explain what an incredibly bad idea it was… :rolleyes:

That’s a bit harder to explain, but I’ll give it a whack. Muscle stimulators take advantage of the fact that muscle movement is caused by a bio-electrical reaction to nerve impulses firing. Here’s the difference, you’re actually exerting yourself when you move, with all that entails, i.e resistance, weight, or what have you. Muscle stimulators mimic this effect, but without the exertion. You can actually feel the difference, because it’s involuntary. You can duplicate this by trying the following: Rapidly open and close your hand into a fist 10-20 times a fast as you can. Stop with your hand open. Your hand will still attempt to make a fist. What happened is that you’ve created a sort of electrical overload to your hand, your nerves are still sending a curent even though you’ve stopped doing it intentionally.

Could you please take another whack? The only difference I can see is that with muscle stimulators you’re introducing outside energy, so you’re not doing any energy consumption (ie muscle stimulators won’t help you work off that candy bar). But muscle growth, as far as I know, happens as a reaction to muscles doing work, no matter where the energy comes from. Why doesn’t muscle stimulators cause muscle growth?

The intensity of the contraction is what matters. To deliver enough electricity to get that intensity, the abwhackers and whatnot would have to burn you very badly.

Thanks you’re right about that.

Actually, he’s not. I experimented with a commercial (medical) muscle stimulator back in the early 70’s. Went through the chart on all the various stimulation points and such, and varied the voltage/current with great abandon. It’s quite easy to raise the juice to the point where, say, you can no longer open your hand against the electrical stimulus. Beyond that point lie horrible muscle cramps, and presumably beyond that lie actual burns.

So, Squink, you’re saying that muscle stimulators do/can/should work?

I had a number of sessions with a physical therapist to fix a tweaked knee, and I asked him these same questions about those electro-stimulators on TV. And he told me this great story.
He had done some work with a guy who was trying to develop a system to artificially fire muscles to help parapalegics walk. My PT was involved in preparing the subjects for the tests. Since they hadn’t used their legs in so long, they needed to develop some strength before they could even attempt to use this new device. So my PT was involved with the rehab, and they used, you guessed it, (real) electro-stimulus devices to rebuild their legs. Only instead of just using the ones to hold off atrophy, they used ones that would actually exercise the muscles. He told me their goal was to have them do leg extensions with a weight of 35 lbs. (if I remember correctly).
Anyway, out of curiousity, my PT wanted to feel what these electro-stimulators felt like. So he hooked one up. I happen to believe that my PT had a pretty good threshold of pain, by the way. He told me that he could barely handle 1/10th of the setting that they were using on the subjects. He said it was so excruciating that he was sweating like crazy, and really gasping.

So the bottom line is, those electro-stimulators COULD work, but no one can handle the pain you would need to endure for them to make any difference. What they sell is little more than a placebo that tingles.

Well I actually trained patients and physical therapist on their use (as well as traction equipment). I remember warnings about burns, though it may have been in relation to the gel (that was back in the late 80s), so I’m not going to argue the point to strenuously.

Sure, with a bad electrode connection you can get local heating. I just wanted to point out that burns aren’t necessarily the first unpleasant effect of muscle stimulator abuse.
The $30 ab busters, that the FDA cracked down on last year aren’t likely powerful enough to do anyone much good. I saw another small (quasi-medical), non-T.E.N.S. device recently, that had more power. It looked like it could be a lot of fun, and might help with lower back pain, but still it seems as if trying to use the device to bulk up would be a difficult, and potentially dangerous, undertaking.

Ah, but people said that about the Quick and Brite, and it’s the best stuff ever!
My ridicule tolerans level is higher than you might imagine, I have no pride.
Squink mentions about bulking up, but as I said I am not interested in bulking up at all at all.

Ok, have I understood this right, that what the machine does is to cause a weak contraction of the muscle? How weak? Weaker than my just lifting my arm with no added resistance (in the case of bicep)? What would the actual effect of this weak contraction be, if repeated many many times?

I had this done on my jaw a couple of weeks ago. I had to sit with it on for an hour. It was wacky wild fun! :slight_smile:

Except the right side of my face kept getting shocked bad. Eventually the Dr. had to put some more silicon goo on the pad so I wouldn’t fry. Other than that, it just felt like someone was tapping my temples over and over again for an hour.

Okay, so I’ll have to be the one who admits she’s bought and tried one of these things.

My advice: don’t.

I put the thing on and it was such a discomfort, that I didn’t even stop to see if I felt anything in the way of muscles contracting. (Come to think about it, nothing did contract, in the time it took to unhook it again). I just threw it in the Salvation Amy bin.