4 Side Effects of Muscle Stimulators

Muscle stimulators, commonly referred to as electric muscle stimulators (EMS) or neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) devices, provide various therapeutic advantages. Despite their generally low risk of side effects, it’s essential to be mindful of any potential discomfort that may arise.

This article delves into the typical side effects associated with muscle stimulators and provides guidance on precautions to guarantee their safe and effective usage.

Common Side Effects

1. Skin Irritation

Using muscle stimulators can sometimes lead to a common side effect – skin irritation right where you place the electrodes. Those adhesive pads delivering the electrical current might make your skin turn red, feel itchy, or become a bit sensitive. The good news? It’s usually temporary and calms down soon after your treatment.

To keep skin irritation at bay, make sure you’re putting the electrodes in the right spot, have clean and dry skin before applying them, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for taking care of the electrodes and swapping them out when needed.

2. Discomfort Near the Head and Neck Area

Using muscle stimulators near your head and neck might bring on some discomfort, like headaches or irritations. Don’t worry too much – these feelings are usually mild and don’t stick around for long. Just be careful not to place the electrodes right on your face or too close to your eyes, ears, or throat.

If you start feeling uncomfortable, try tweaking the intensity level or moving the electrodes to a different spot – that often does the trick. But if the discomfort sticks around or gets worse, it’s a good idea to chat with a healthcare professional for some expert advice.

3. Muscle Pain or Discomfort

Sometimes, using muscle stimulators on joints or muscles with issues can bring on some muscle pain. While muscle stimulation is usually cool, going too hard or using super intense settings might leave you feeling sore. The key? Start slow with low-intensity settings and gradually dial it up until you find a comfy level.

And here’s a tip: don’t go overboard with your muscle stimulator – using it for too long or cranking up the intensity too much can up the chances of muscle pain. 

Pros usually recommend keeping a TENS therapy session to about 30 minutes. But no worries if you want to go longer – just make sure to give your skin a breather from the electrode pads every 20 minutes or so.

If the discomfort hangs around or gets worse, you should consult a healthcare pro for some expert guidance.

4. Joint Pain

Using muscle stimulators too much or not in the right way on your joints can bring on joint pain. To stay in the clear, make sure you’re following the advice of a healthcare pro or therapist on where to put the electrodes and how intense to go.

Steer clear of zapping your joints directly or cranking up the intensity too high – that way, you can cut down on the risk of joint discomfort. If you start feeling joint pain during or after using muscle stimulators, it’s a good idea to stop and get some medical advice.

Who Should Avoid Using Muscle Stimulators?

Muscle stimulators, including whole-body electro-myo-stimulation (WB-EMS) and neuro muscular electrical stimulation (NMES), are not suitable for certain individuals due to various health risks and contraindications. Muscle stimulators are generally not recommended for people who have the following conditions:

  • Epilepsy
  • Cancer or tumors
  • Neurological diseases
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Acute arthritis or hernias
  • Bleeding disorders
  • Recent operations or open wounds
  • Uncontrolled skin conditions

For pregnant women and people with pacemakers or implanted electronic devices, they should also avoid using EMS devices. 


To ensure safe and effective use of muscle stimulators, here are some important precautions to keep in mind:

  • Seek Professional Guidance: Consult with a certified healthcare professional or therapist who can provide guidance on proper electrode placement, appropriate intensity levels, and treatment duration based on your specific needs.
  • Start Slowly: Begin with lower intensity settings and gradually increase them as your body adapts to the muscle stimulation. This helps minimize the risk of discomfort or pain.
  • Avoid Sensitive Areas: Take care to avoid placing electrodes directly on the face, near sensitive organs, or over open wounds or broken skin.
  • Limit Usage: Avoid excessive or prolonged use of muscle stimulators, as it can increase the risk of muscle or joint discomfort. Follow recommended treatment schedules and duration as advised by your healthcare professional.
  • Monitor Skin Sensitivity: Regularly check the skin under the electrodes for any signs of irritation, such as redness or itching. If skin irritation occurs, discontinue use and consult with a healthcare professional.

The Bottom Line

Although side effects from muscle stimulators are usually rare and not too bothersome, it’s crucial to know about possible discomforts and take the right precautions.

Just stick to the guidelines, chat with a pro when needed, and pay attention to how your body reacts. That way, you can enjoy the perks of muscle stimulation safely and effectively, while keeping any potential side effects to a minimum.

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