What Is Electrical Stimulation & How Can It Help Stroke Recovery?

What Is Electrical Stimulation & How Can It Help Stroke Recovery?

Electrical stimulation is bringing hope for stroke recovery.

This form of therapy can help stroke survivors regain mobility – even if they struggle with post-stroke paralysis.

Today you’ll learn what exactly electrical stimulation is and how to apply it to your recovery to improve movement after stroke.

Let’s get started.

What Is Electrical Stimulation Anyway?

Electrical stimulation is a form of physical therapy where electricity is sent to your body through electrodes attached to your skin.

The electricity helps elicit muscle contraction, which is helpful for stroke survivors trying to overcome post-stroke paralysis (hemiplegia) or severe weakness (hemiparesis).

This particular kind of electrical stimulation is called neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES).

Here’s how it works:

Using Electricity to Get Moving

Normally, your brain sends electrical signals to you muscles to make them move. When the brain is affected by stroke, it can have trouble generating these signals.

When electrical stimulation is applied to affected muscles, it works in the opposite direction: the electricity contracts the affected muscles and sends a signal to the brain.

This stimulation helps “wake up” the brain and make it aware of the affected muscles, which helps the brain rewire itself.

As the brain rewires itself, your control of the affected muscles improves.

Sparking Changes in the Brain with Electrical Stimulation

The brain rewires itself through the process of neuroplasticity, where new connections in the brain are formed and strengthened.

When your muscles become weak after stroke, it’s not because your actual muscles got weaker; rather, it’s because your brain lost connection with them.

To rebuild that connection, your brain must create new neural pathways through neuroplasticity to communicate with your affected muscles.

Electrical stimulation helps spark neuroplasticity by making the brain aware of the affected muscles.

Often, electrical stimulation is enough to get things going, though. You need to take it one step further to improve movement after stroke.

Here’s how:

Always Combine Electrical Stimulation with Rehab Exercise for Best Results

Research shows the electrical stimulation combined with rehab exercise leads to better results.

If you use electrical stimulation in the clinic, your therapist is likely to guide you through various rehab exercises at the same time.

This is simply the best way to recover.

If you decide to try electrical stimulation at home, be sure to consult your therapist first. They can set you up with a regimen that you can replicate at home.

Since every stroke is different, every recovery is different. The best way to use electrical stimulation for one person will be different for another.

So always consult with your therapist before beginning a new regimen that involves potentially hazardous elements like electrical stimulation.

Does Electrical Stimulation Hurt?

Electrical stimulation can be an unpleasant experience if the intensity is turned up high enough.

Some risks of using electrical stimulation is muscle tearing, skin irritation, and tissue burns. These can be avoided by using the machine cautiously!

Because of these risks, it’s even more imperative to check with your therapist before beginning electrical stimulation.

It’s even better if you can bring your e-stim machine into the clinic to have your therapist explain how to use it to minimize the possible risks.

Recap: Electrical Stimulation for Stroke Recovery

Electrical stimulation is an effective way to regain mobility after stroke, even if you struggle with post-stroke paralysis.

The electricity sends signals to the brain to “wake up” its awareness of the affected side and activate neuroplasticity.

By combining electrical stimulation with rehab exercises, you can effectively rewire the brain and improve movement after stroke.

Be sure to consult with your therapist to learn the best way for you to use electrical stimulation for your unique recovery.