Clinical Use of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation for Neuromuscular Rehabilitation: What Are We Overlooking?

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2018 Apr;99(4):806-812. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2017.10.028. Epub 2017 Dec 9.


The clinical success of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) for neuromuscular rehabilitation is greatly compromised by the poor consideration of different physiological and methodological issues that are not always obvious to the clinicians. Therefore, the aim of this narrative review is to reexamine some of these fundamental aspects of NMES using a tripartite model perspective. First, we contend that NMES does not actually bypass the central nervous system but results in a multitude of neurally mediated responses that contribute substantially to force generation and may engender neural adaptations. Second, we argue that too much emphasis is generally placed on externally controllable stimulation parameters while the major determinant of NMES effectiveness is the intrinsically determined muscle tension generated by the current (ie, evoked force). Third, we believe that a more systematic approach to NMES therapy is required in the clinic and this implies a better identification of the patient-specific impairment and of the potential "responders" to NMES therapy. On the basis of these considerations, we suggest that the crucial steps to ensure the clinical effectiveness of NMES treatment should consist of (1) identifying the neuromuscular impairment with clinical assessment and (2) implementing algorithm-based NMES therapy while (3) properly dosing the treatment with tension-controlled NMES and eventually amplifying its neural effects.

Keywords: Electric stimulation; Muscle strength; Quadriceps muscle; Rehabilitation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neuromuscular Diseases / rehabilitation*