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Phys Ther. 1990 Mar;70(3):158-64.

Two theories of muscle strength augmentation using percutaneous electrical stimulation.

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  • 1Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110.


Electrical stimulation of muscle is a commonly used, well-substantiated strategy that physical therapists use to augment strength in patients with muscle weakness. Two distinctly different theories of strength augmentation using percutaneous muscle stimulation are presented. The first theory proposes that augmentation of muscle strength with electrically elicited muscle contractions occurs in a similar manner to augmentation of muscle strength with voluntary exercise. Electrically elicited muscle contractions of relatively high intensity with low numbers of repetitions strengthen muscle proportionally to the external load on the muscle in a manner that is equivalent to voluntary contraction. The second theory proposes that augmentation of muscle strength using percutaneous stimulation is fundamentally different from augmentation of strength with voluntary exercise. This theory uses the physiological differences between electrically elicited and voluntary contractions, such as the reversal of motor unit recruitment order, as a basis for argument. Both theories are partially substantiated using published literature. Strategies for testing both theories are also presented.

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