ESTIM: Electrical Stimulation Therapy and Pain Management

Person with electrical sensors on neck and back

Electric stimulation therapy, or ESTIM, is a type of treatment that sends mild electrical pulses through the skin to treat pain. Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) provides brain, head, nerve, and spine treatments for patients throughout northern New Jersey, ranging from non-surgical to surgical methods. Here, CNSO discusses using electrical stimulation therapy to manage muscle and nerve pain.

What Is Electrical Stimulation Therapy (ESTIM)?

Electrical stimulation, also known as ESTIM or e-stim, is a treatment method often used in physical therapy and pain management. Electrical stimulation therapy delivers mild electrical currents through the patient’s skin, either to target the muscles to stimulate quicker recovery or the nerves to reduce pain.

ESTIM is a promising treatment option for people with chronic pain and may help decrease the need for pain medication. However, most experts agree it should not be used as a first-line treatment. Rather, it should be part of a coordinated pain management plan including physical therapy and more.

How Does ESTIM Work?

ESTIM involves using a special device to send mild electrical pulses through the skin via electrodes. The pulses mimic what occurs when a person’s muscle contracts and releases naturally. There are a few types of ESTIM, with the most common being transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS). The type used will depend on what the goal of treatment is.


For patients seeking pain management, the best type of ESTIM is generally a TENS unit. A TENS unit involves a small device with attached electrodes that are applied to the skin near the affected nerves. The unit is used to send electrical currents to nerves, helping them to block pain receptors from being sent to the brain. This interruption in pain signals leads to pain relief. The electrical currents are not painful, but patients will feel a tingling sensation during the treatment.

EMS Unit

For patients whose goal is muscle recovery, an EMS unit is preferred. It works in the same way as a TENS unit but uses a slightly stronger current to get muscles to contract rhythmically. This contraction can then improve muscle function, promote blood flow, and lead to a quicker healing time.

These are the two most common types of electrical stimulation therapy, though there are more. Some people may opt to try ESTIM on their own with at-home machines, but working with a trained physician for placement of the electrodes along with massage modalities and strengthening exercises is recommended for the best results.

Who Is a Candidate for ESTIM?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, using a TENS unit may help reduce pain in patients with osteoarthritis. However, ESTIM can be effective in reducing pain in people with many different conditions, including:

  • Chronic back or neck pain
  • Arthritis and joint pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Spinal cord injury pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Post-surgical pain

The risk of complications from electrical stimulation therapy is low, but it is not recommended for everyone. Pregnant women and people with implanted medical devices such as pacemakers, infusion pumps, or defibrillators should not use electrical stimulation therapy. People with heart conditions should also be cautious about ESTIM treatment.

Why Choose CNSO for Treatment?

Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics (CNSO) is a leading medical facility that has earned a reputation as the best place in New Jersey for state-of-the-art care. The dedicated medical staff consists of neurosurgeons, orthopedic spine surgeons, reconstructive surgery, plastic surgery, interventional pain management physicians, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists who all work together to provide personalized treatment plans for every patient. Patients choose CNSO for many reasons:

  • Compassionate, board-certified specialists
  • Conservative approach to care, providing both non-surgical and surgical treatments
  • Telemedicine appointments
  • Multiple locations in northern New Jersey
  • Fluency in multiple languages, including Spanish, Korean, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Mandarin Chinese, and Hebrew

These are just some of the reasons patients choose Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics for their care.

Manage Pain With ESTIM From CNSO

Patients struggling with acute or chronic pain in northern New Jersey should seek care at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics, with multiple convenient office locations around the area. CNSO boasts a multidisciplinary team of specialists who are dedicated to helping patients feel better and live with less pain. Contact us today to request an appointment to learn more about ESTIM.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics