Submitted by Cory Robertson, Therapy Resource, Idaho

Did you know that electrical stimulation can be used for more than a really fun demonstration in high school physiology class? Yes, it is great for that, but the evidence-based applications of electrical stimulation are myriad. A recent meta-analysis (yes, a meta-analysis, the king of the hierarchy of scientific evidence) concluded that e-stim effectually strengthens quadriceps and enhances exercise capacity in moderate to severe COPD patients.

A large barrier to therapy for those with respiratory conditions is their tolerance. They fatigue quickly and get short of breath and struggle with dyspnea. That is in part due to the changes in muscles when the ability to deliver oxygen to them decreases. There is an increased reliance on less fatigue-resistant muscle fibers. One method to address that barrier is the use of neuromuscular electrical stimulation to activate those muscles most important to functional activities. But how do you do it?

Like most therapeutic interventions, there is skill involved, and if done incorrectly, at best it is a placebo. The goal is to use the NMES effectively to get the best outcomes as evidenced by the meta-analysis and many more research articles. Please check out article for Respiratory Rehabilitation EStim from the portal for a refresher on how electrical stimulation works and some best practices. It will help to get the therapeutic dose to the target tissue, leading to great outcomes, while enhancing the tools in your therapy tool bag.

Let’s use the tools available to us, supported by evidence, to best treat those who rely on us to improve their function and quality of life. Electrical stimulation can be more than a last resort, or why Mr. Wilson gets the best reviews in his physiology class.