The Effectiveness of Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation in Improving Voluntary Activation of the Quadriceps: A Critically Appraised Topic

in Journal of Sport Rehabilitation
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Clinical Scenario:

Orthopedic knee conditions are regularly treated in sports-medicine clinics. Rehabilitation protocols for these conditions are often designed to address the associated quadriceps strength deficits. Despite these efforts, patients with orthopedic knee conditions often fail to completely regain their quadriceps strength. Disinhibitory modalities have recently been suggested as a clinical tool that can be used to counteract the negative effects of arthrogenic muscle inhibition, which is believed to limit the effectiveness of therapeutic exercise. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) is commonly accepted as a strengthening modality, but its ability to simultaneously serve as a disinhibitory treatment is not as well established.

Clinical Question:

Does NMES effectively enhance quadriceps voluntary activation in patients with orthopedic knee conditions?

Summary of Key Findings:

Four randomized controlled trials (RCTs) met the inclusion criteria and were included. Of those, 1 reported statistically significant improvements in quadriceps voluntary activation in the intervention group relative to a comparison group, but the statistical significance was not true for another study consisting of the same sample of participants with a different follow-up period. One study reported a trend in the NMES group, but the between-groups differences were not statistically significant in 3 of the 4 RCTs.

Clinical Bottom Line:

Current evidence does not support the use of NMES for the purpose of enhancing quadriceps voluntary activation in patients with orthopedic knee conditions.

Strength of Recommendation:

There is level B evidence that the use of NMES alone or in conjunction with therapeutic exercise does not enhance quadriceps voluntary activation in patients with orthopedic knee conditions (eg, anterior cruciate ligament injuries, osteoarthritis, total knee arthroplasty).

Bremner is with the Athletic Training Program, Southern Utah University, Cedar City, UT. Holcomb is with the Athletic Training Program, Mercer University, Macon, GA. Brown is with the Athletic Training Program, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Perreault is with the School of Kinesiology, Sport Studies, and Physical Education, The College at Brockport, SUNY, Brockport, NY.

Bremner (codybremner@suu.edu) is corresponding author.