When you want to get results either in body building or just in boosting your strength and performance, shortening the amount of time your muscles need to heal after a workout can be very appealing. For that reason, many people have started using a TENS unit for workout recovery.
However, as you may know, these machines are frequently misunderstood or mistaken for other similar looking devices called electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) units. Therefore, your first step is to know whether or not using a TENS unit for workout recovery is safe and effective and, if so, the next step is to learn how to safely do it.
When it all comes down to it, using a TENS unit for workout recovery is a common practice, but it’s one that comes with limited research. Still, there are many people who swear by it and the number of studies looking into it are growing. In fact, there was a recent paper published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research looked directly into evidence that would support the use of this technology as a recovery aid.
The idea behind using electrical stimulation to boost muscle healing and reduce pain has to do with improving blood flow in the same way that athletes have their muscles massaged after intense workouts or competitions. Massaging or otherwise stimulating the muscles can help to open up blood vessels that have been cut off from the pressure of swollen muscles.
The more the blood vessels open up, the better the blood flow to the area and, therefore, there is an improved opportunity for recovery. It is increasingly believed that this enhanced blood flow can decrease the amount of time required for acute recovery and for the overall recovery needed between workouts.
The blood flow through the muscles can help to bring in valuable nutrients required for healing the micro-abrasions that occur every time a workout is completed. The same blood flow also helps to wash away the metabolic waste products that can start to build up within the muscles.
To get the most out of TENS units as a part of an overall workout recovery strategy, it is typically recommended that they not be used as the exclusive effort to heal the muscles. Proper nutrition and hydration play a vital role, as do anti-inflammatory treatments, cold temperature treatments such as ice baths, as well as massaging the area.