How to Use E-Stim

Updated July 20, 2017

E-stim, short for electrical stimulation, has many applications in the fields of medicine, physical and sports therapy and athletic training. It can be used to treat pain, reduce swelling, help injured muscles recovery, stimulate muscles and treat spasticity in people with neurologically based conditions. Electrical current, applied by specialised units via electrodes on the skin, cause muscles to contract. This is a simple way to build muscle. There are two primary types of electrical stimulation units used for most medical and athletic purposes: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and interferential current.

Consult a physician to determine whether you are a good candidate for electrical stimulation therapy. This is a necessary step because there are several health conditions that need to be ruled out before you can do e-stim safely. If you do not have an e-stim unit, a prescription is needed for insurance coverage.

Make an appointment with a physical therapist or certified athletic trainer with electrical stimulation training. If you are using an older e-stim unit, these professionals will check the unit to make sure it is emitting electrical current in beneficial doses. They also will identify the size of electrodes needed and their exact placement to benefit your specific needs, advise you on current settings and tell you how frequently to use e-stim to achieve your goals.

Clean the skin surface where the electrodes will be placed using rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. Dry the area briefly with a blow-dryer. This will prevent any lint being left behind, extending the life of your electrodes. Also wash and dry your hands.

Place the electrodes on your skin as directed by the therapist or trainer. Electrodes should be positioned to enable the current to pass through the painful area or along the nerves leading from the pain.

Adjust the unit for electrical current specifications. The settings determine whether the current will result in a strong muscle contraction or a gentle one.

Attach the e-stim lead wires to the electrodes, as specified by the therapist or trainer.

Turn on the e-stim unit and set the timer for the specified length of time.

Turn off the unit and remove the electrodes at the end of your session. Adhere the electrodes to a clean plastic surface between uses and store them in an airtight plastic bag.


Your electrical stimulation unit may have a manual that shows where electrodes are placed for many conditions and the current settings prescribed most often for each. If you don't have a manual, check the manufacturer's site online to see whether one is available for download.


E-stim should not be used with patients who have pacemakers, any cardiac condition or a seizure disorder.

Things You'll Need

  • Electrical stimulation unit
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Cotton ball
  • Blow-dryer
  • Connecting lead wires
  • Clean electrodes
  • Timer
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About the Author

Cindy Day has been writing and editing since 1977. She was an editor for "Moody Monthly" magazine, a reporter for the "South Bend Tribune" and has contributed to "Advertising Age" and "Notre Dame Magazine." Day has a Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.