What is Electrical Stimulation Therapy?

Electrical stimulation therapy, known as e-stim for short, refers to the administration of low-level electrical currents to a muscle or muscle group, most commonly a limb. This type of rehabilitation therapy is typically used in dogs that have experienced significant muscle injury or atrophy, or have recently had surgery. It is often used as a first measure of rehabilitation due to its efficacy, safety, and painlessness.

The primary goals of treatment are to optimize muscle range and motion, reduce stiffness and inflammation, strengthen muscles that have begun to waste away, and relieve pain following injury or surgery. E-stim is popular for owners with sporting breeds who hope to maximize their dog’s performance or heal their muscles quickly following sporting injuries.

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Electrical Stimulation Therapy Procedure in Dogs

The duration of therapy and frequency of sessions depend on many factors, including your dog’s size and weight, the type of injury or surgery, the extent of muscle or neurological damage, and your dog’s medical history. Sessions usually last from 10-30 minutes.

  1. The certified practitioner will apply a special gel before placing adhesive electrodes on the skin near affected muscle or muscle group.
  2. Using a small, hand-held device, the practitioner will turn on the electrical current. The current will last for a short period of time, usually around 10 seconds for smaller dogs. This will cause the muscle to contract. The current and duration can be adjusted according to size and weight.
  3. The current will then slowly decrease in intensity, causing the muscle to relax. The current will alternate in intensity throughout therapy, prompting the muscles to contract, relax, and contract again.
  4. Once the therapy is completed, the practitioner will remove the electrodes and wipe off the gel using a warm washcloth.

Efficacy of Electrical Stimulation Therapy in Dogs

Electrical stimulation therapy is a low-risk, highly effective, safe procedure that helps injured muscles heal in less time with less pain. Electrical stimulation therapy also strengthens the muscle and adds muscle mass in cases of muscle atrophy. This type of therapy is particularly useful for dogs that cannot use the affected limb and therefore cannot strengthen the muscle themselves. Dogs usually start showing signs of improvement within four sessions.

Using hot and cold therapy and massaging the muscles may help relieve pain and cost less, but may not help strengthen the muscles like e-stim. Electroacupuncture may also be used to treat similar conditions, but this procedure may be more stressful for your dog. While effective in paralyzed dogs, this type of therapy may cause your dog to be lethargic for a few days after a session.

Electrical Stimulation Therapy Recovery in Dogs

Your dog will not need to recover from electrical stimulation therapy as this type of treatment is usually part of their recovery plan following significant injury or surgery. E-stim may be used in conjunction with other therapies, including pain management drugs, massage therapy, passive exercise, hydrotherapy, and laser therapy for severe injuries. Your dog may have to attend several e-stim sessions per week depending on the severity of their injury.

You should ensure your dog has a comfortable place to rest during the recovery period so that they do not cause further injury to the affected limb. Limiting their play and activity is also key to their recovery.

Cost of Electrical Stimulation Therapy in Dogs

The cost of your dog’s electrical stimulation therapy may vary depending on duration and frequency, as well as any proceeding surgeries, medications, and therapies used in conjunction. The cost may be as low as $35 per session, not including consultation fees, or as much as $200 per session.

Dog Electrical Stimulation Therapy Considerations

The procedure is not painful for dogs, and no anesthesia or sedatives are required. The feeling is similar to a tingling sensation, and most dogs actually enjoy the therapy once they become used to it. There is usually no risk involved, especially when the therapy is administered by a licensed practitioner.

There are home electrical stimulation therapy kits available on the market. However, administering electrical stimulation therapy without proper training could worsen the injury. Should your dog require electrical stimulation therapy, please consult a certified e-stim practitioner or your trusted veterinarian.

Electrical Stimulation Therapy Prevention in Dogs

The key to preventing injury is to avoid engaging your dog in excessive activity when possible, particularly if your dog is prone to muscle pain or joint stiffness. If your dog is older and has a higher risk of developing neuromuscular disorders, you may want to consider feeding it an age-appropriate diet as well as supplements to improve muscle and joint function. Never provide supplements to your pet without first consulting a veterinarian.