Treating Knee Arthritis with EMS
February 05, 2004
By Diana Barnes Brown for Knee1
Osteoarthritis of the knee is often referred to as "wear and tear arthritis," because it is caused by stress on the knee joint from use or prior injury, and can be compounded by lack of adequate support from the surrounding muscle groups, causing the joint to bear more stress than it would otherwise. This "wear and tear" causes the cartilage between the bones of the knee to deteriorate, allowing the bones to rub against the lining of the joints and irritating the many nerves that reside there—with painful results.
For sufferers of osteoarthritis of the knee, electronic muscle therapy (EMS) has recently shown itself to be a promising new treatment option.
How Does EMS Work?
EMS has been used for years by health care and sports training experts to improve muscle function. Professional athletes often incorporate EMS into their regular fitness routines to increase muscle endurance and strength, as well as range of motion and blood flow to treated muscle groups. For sufferers of muscle-related medical problems, such as muscle atrophy or reduced function caused by injuries or medical conditions, EMS can be used in the same way, with a focus on the prevention or slowing of muscle deterioration and, in ideal scenarios, facilitating a return of normal muscle function. Because it offers strength and mobility improvement on such a basic level, EMS is a treatment option for a wide range of injuries or conditions caused by or related to muscle weakness, as well as joint, tendon, and nerve injuries.
During normal exercise, the brain sends a message to the nerves by way of the spinal cord, signaling them to expand and contract the muscle in a process called voluntary muscle action. Alternately, EMS works by sending electrical stimulation from an outside source directly to the nerves; in turn, the nerves cause the muscle to expand and contract. One of the advantages of this method over exercise regimens and physical therapy is that EMS has been shown to stimulate large nerve axons, not all of which can be stimulated by the voluntary muscle action of more traditional methods of strength and endurance training.
How Does EMS Help Osteoarthritis Patients?
For sufferers of osteoarthritis of the knee, EMS treatment can be instrumental in pain management, reducing the stress on surrounding joints by increasing the efficacy of the treated muscle group. Physicians routinely advise knee arthritis patients to strengthen their quadriceps—the large muscles that run along the front of the leg from the knee to the hip—through exercise and physical therapy regimens in order to prevent, reduce, or alleviate stress on the joint.
EMS can be advantageous as a strengthening therapy for osteoarthritis patients because it can improve muscle strength without requiring the patient to subject an already vulnerable joint to further impact from weight-bearing exercise. Additionally, muscle injury is not a common risk with EMS, while it is a potential danger of traditional strength and endurance training for those with sedentary lifestyles, particularly women. This benefit can be helpful for the elderly, who are the most common sufferers osteoarthritis, as well as patients who have limited their physical activity due to the chronic pain associated with the condition.
The treatment can take place at home, using a specially-designed machine provided by the patients doctor or health care specialist. Treatment is administered by attaching adhesive electrodes at various locations on the skin—in the case of those with knee arthritis, along the quadriceps—and sending electrical signals from the machine through the electrodes on the skin and to the muscles.