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From Frog Legs to Your Legs: The Fascinating History of Electronic Muscle Stimulation




Electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) is a process that involves the use of a particular device to stimulate the contraction of the muscles using electrical impulses. The low-level electronic pulses that are sent to the muscles are meant to halt atrophy or reduce spasms.

The process is mainly used in hospitals and physical therapy clinics but has now found favor among commercial fitness enthusiasts. The history of EMS and how it grew and gained the popularity it now enjoys is quite interesting.

History of Electronic Muscle Stimulation

The journey from a simple discovery through to a well-established theory on electrical impulses and their effects on the body’s process is a very interesting one. It is a story that shows the steady development of the process through scientific discovery as a scientist from one century to another made their discovery that contributed to what we now know today.

Before Men Knew of Electricity

Electricity was first used as a treatment in 2500B.C which was the time of the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty. The Egyptians found a fish that gave off electric energy and realized it could be used to treat pain. They did not know the force of energy as electricity as we know it now, but they realized its usefulness.

The First Scientific Proof

Italian scientist Luigi Galvani made the connection between the muscle and electrical impulses when his assistant accidentally used a scalpel to brush the sciatic nerve of a frog on which they had just done an experiment. The legs of the frog moved as if it was still alive and that caught the attention of Luigi. The year was 1791 and the physiologist provided the first scientific proof that the muscle can be activated by the current.

Later Developments

Following Galvani’s discovery, Carlo Matteucci went on to demonstrate that applying a voltage to cell membranes caused them to produce current. The study of electrophysiology – the branch of physiology that focuses on the connection between electricity and the body’s functions. Bois-Reymond (who was inspired by Matteucci’s work) went on to discover the action potential in 1848.

The discovery that the nervous tissues are composed of discrete cells came two years later and was credited to the work of Reymond’s friend Hermann von Helmholz. The Nobel Prize in physiology was awarded to the two friends in 1906.

Sports – EMS for Athletes

The 19th and 20th centuries saw the most action as it relates to scientific research and further studies on the relationship between electric impulses and its effect on the body. One hundred years after Galvani’s discovery, scientists found that there were permanent changes in muscles that were treated with electronic muscle stimulation.

Confirmation that the human body functions better after undergoing an electrical stimulation came after World War II. This signaled the coming together of all the experiments and the forward thrust of EMS as a recognized method of muscle treatment. The treatment was first used on athletes in the 1960s when the Soviet Union used it on their top athletes while in training. The results were said to be favorable, as athletes showed muscle improvement and a force gain of 40%.

Beauty – EMS in the Salon and Muscle Development Fields

Electronic muscle stimulation found itself into the beauty and personal care industry in the 1970s when it made its way into the salon. Over the next 20 years, the treatment method started to play a significant role in the fields of muscle treatment and muscle development. Today electronic stimulator devices can be bought commercially for personal use.

Electronic muscle stimulator devices became so widely used in the homes and later they were adopted for everyday wear. These wearable units made a big hit in the 1990s. They were worn as belts, shirts, and even shorts. The belts were fitted with electrodes that lay against the skin (using adhesive pads) while the shorts were made of neoprene.

Benefits of Electronic Muscle Stimulation

Electrotherapy is now mainly used in areas that relate to physical and sports activities where muscle injuries are common and rehabilitation is necessary. It is not only used for rehabilitation, but also for training and recovery. People who suffer from debilitating injuries to the skeletal or nervous system and are unable to move their muscles are in danger of muscle atrophy.

his is due to the fact that when muscles do not contract they go through a natural deterioration process. People suffering from those types of injuries have to undergo consistent electrotherapy treatment to save the muscles from atrophy. Patients who are critically ill can wear electrical muscle stimulators to help preserve their muscle mass.

Electronic muscle stimulation has moved on from the frog leg to our legs in a very significant way. Many people benefit from the treatment method that started out with the jerk of a dead frog’s leg. The treatment method and electronic muscle stimulator devices are now widely used to assist people in a number of ways.

While the treatment is effective and produces great results as is the case with all medical situations, it is best not to go about it on your own impulse. Always talk to your doctor before using a muscle stimulation product.