Electrostimulation and Cancer: Is it possible to apply electrostimulation in cancer patients?

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Electrostimulation and Cancer Is it possible to apply electrostimulation in cancer patients

Thanks to the study carried out in our Wiems Lab laboratory, today we bring to the blog the effects that electrostimulation has on oncological patients, that is, people with cancer.

First of all, there is no problem in apply electrostimulation as long as the person applying it is a qualified professional, such as a trainer or physiotherapist specialized in EMS.

Study of electrostimulation in cancer patients

The first research article has recently been published in which it is applied the EMS (along with nutritional intervention) in oncology patients for 12 weeks (1).

In it, a group of patients to whom a nutritional strategy is applied is compared with another that follows the same nutritional strategy plus 2 weekly workouts with electrostimulation.

The conclusions of this study tell us that there is a significant improvement in muscle mass and body weight, which makes EMS or electrostimulation a useful element in the fight against cachexia.

Furthermore, in other successful cases we verified the increase in muscle hypertrophy thanks to EMS:

In addition, there are improvements in physical condition based on grip strength (manual dynamometry) and the 6-minute walk test. It is interesting to note that both groups have improvements in this regard, which highlights the importance of nutritional intervention, but the results are better in patients who trained with electrostimulation.

It is very notable that no negative results are seen in the analyzes carried out periodically throughout the process. There is no muscle damage nor is any pro-carcinogenic or pro-pathological physiological marker enhanced.

The results of this study do not represent a revolution for the field of study, but they are a historical precedent that will allow the growth of scientific knowledge in this area to increase.

This study also points out that neuromuscular electrostimulation (EMS/NEMS) could be a new therapeutic alternative to prevent muscle atrophy and the progressive deterioration of the physical condition of these patients.

As much or more important than this; This article adds to the scientific evidence that well-programmed and controlled physical exercise brings great benefits to cancer patients, even in advanced stages.

Is there a history of using electrostimulation in cancer patients or other seriously ill patients

Is there a history of using electrostimulation in cancer patients or other seriously ill patients?

Of course, we find literature related to various types of patients.

In the case at hand in the oncology patient, we see how there are medical electrostimulation systems aimed at relieving neuropathic pain during chemotherapy with positive results (2):

These devices place the electrodes differently and have a different objective than neuromuscular electrostimulation, but they base their treatment on the use of low frequencies, which is why they deserve to be mentioned.

In other seriously ill patients, such as patients who need hemodialysis or who have a serious kidney condition, it has been observed that the use of electrostimulation has a positive impact.

Electrostimulation provides benefits related to improving muscle strength, functional capacity and muscle composition (such as quadriceps). It has also been pointed out that neuromuscular electrostimulation (EMS/NEMS) could be a new therapeutic alternative to avoid muscle atrophy and the progressive deterioration of the physical condition of these patients. The potential beneficial effects of NMES in hemodialysis patients need to be established (3).

There is evidence that the application of electrostimulation to cardiac or pulmonary patients has a positive effect on their body composition, oxygen consumption, and strength levels. (4–6).

Is the use of electrostimulation advisable in cancer patients

Electrostimulation and cancer

As we mentioned previously, electrostimulation is a technique that uses electrical impulses to stimulate muscles and nerves. It has been used in a variety of therapeutic applications, including pain treatment, muscle rehabilitation and improvement of sports performance.

In the context of cancer, electrostimulation can have some positive effects, although it is important to note that it should be used with caution and under the supervision of a health professional.

Some of the possible benefits of electrostimulation in cancer patients include:

  • Pain relief: Electrostimulation can help reduce pain associated with cancer and its treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
  • Improved muscle function: Many cancer patients experience muscle weakness due to the disease itself or side effects of treatment. Electrostimulation can help strengthen muscles and improve muscle function, which may be especially beneficial for those experiencing cancer-related fatigue.
  • Preventing muscle atrophy: During cancer treatment, patients may experience loss of muscle mass due to inactivity or toxicity of the treatments. Electrostimulation can help prevent or reduce muscle atrophy by actively stimulating the muscles.
  • Improved circulation: Electrostimulation can help improve blood and lymph circulation, which can be beneficial in reducing swelling.
  • Improved general well-being: By reducing pain, improving muscle function, and promoting circulation, electrostimulation can contribute to the general well-being and quality of life of cancer patients.

It is important to note that electrostimulation is not suitable for all cancer patients, and there may be contraindications depending on the type of cancer, the patient’s general health, and other individual factors. Therefore, it is crucial that electrostimulation be used under the supervision of a health professional, such as a physical therapist or a doctor specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, who can evaluate whether this technique is safe and appropriate for each individual patient.

Is the use of electrostimulation advisable for cancer patients?

It is important to emphasize that the oncologist has the highest authority to manage the patient’s treatment. He or she will be the one who authorizes and coordinates the participation of the various professionals involved, both in the main treatment and in the complementary ones.

Currently, there is no clear evidence or direct relationship that supports the use of electrostimulation in cancer treatment, but this does not mean that it is not effective for post-treatment recovery, or that it produces the physiological benefits that we have mentioned above. However, although there is no law that says electrostimulation is prohibited, the diversity of opinions on how to use it can lead some people to believe that it is not safe or appropriate in certain cases, even though no such statement exists legally.

However, neuromuscular electrostimulation has been shown to have a significant impact on increasing vascularization. It is crucial to carefully examine pathophysiological and exercise physiology concepts to identify potential negative interactions or situations that require caution when applying these techniques.

When reviewing the specialized literature, we can highlight the following aspects as important points to take into account:

Energy and lactate metabolism

Today, it is accepted that the main energy resource during training with electrostimulation is glycogen-carbohydrate (7)(8). * In future posts, we will talk about this aspect and see if data is being obtained that points in another direction.

In various diseases, such as cancer, there may be presence of acidosis, specifically lactic acidosis, characterized by a chronic elevation of blood lactate levels, which are normally below 2 mmol/L. If the intensity of the exercise is high, as in the case of exercise with electrostimulation, it can generate greater production of lactate, which, in circumstances such as metabolic acidosis, can be harmful. It is important to keep in mind that the chronic increase in lactate levels in critically ill and cancer patients has been associated with a reduction in their life expectancy.

Electrostimulation can be a valuable tool to improve body composition and muscle function in various types of patients, without causing any harm or side effects. A fundamental aspect of preventing or reversing metabolic acidosis is improving tissue blood perfusion. Neuromuscular electrostimulation has been shown to have an outstanding capacity to increase vascularization as well as increase the production of nitric oxide synthase, which leads to an improvement in oxygen perfusion in peripheral tissues.

However, some important issues arise that require attention:

  • Does a small acute lactate spike have any impact in this situation?
  • Would it be appropriate to use electrostimulation programs that do not increase blood lactate levels in cases of metabolic acidosis?
  • Could it help improve the rate of lactate metabolization or buffering in these patients from the early stages, prior to acidosis, to improve the progression of their disease?
  • Could the metabolic improvement induced by the stimulation of skeletal muscle, such an important organ, have a positive impact on cancer patients, even in advanced stages?

As mentioned, physical exercise offers great benefits to this population group, so it is only a matter of time to clarify these questions through specific data and protocols.

Tissue vascularization and angiogenesis

The angiogenesis is broadly defined as the growth of new capillaries from existing vessels and constitutes an important part of developmental morphogenesis, response to injury, and pathogenesis (15,16), in this case tumor.

In many cases, part of the treatment of cancer patients is based on antiangiogenic therapy (preventing angiogenesis). This usually occurs in the treatment phases aimed at controlling or reducing tumor size and avoiding metastasis (17,18).

Like other forms of physical exercise or muscle work, electrostimulation can induce angiogenesis at the muscle level. A specific range of frequencies (8-10 Hz) especially enhances this process (13).

Although there is no data to suggest that angiogenesis induced by muscle stimulation has systemic effects, we could choose not to use these frequency ranges until we know what effects they have on the cancer patient.


In summary, electrostimulation can be very useful to improve body composition and muscle function in various groups of patients, without any harm or side effects having been identified. It is essential to prioritize the incorporation of quality physical exercise programs in any health care system, whether public or private.

“Some have considered that electrostimulation is contraindicated in cancer patients due to the lack of specific information about it, not the existence of evidence against it”.

In many cases, the lack of knowledge about the benefits of physical exercise or the inability to design and supervise them adequately leads to contraindications. The same occurs with the different tools available to carry out this exercise, which is why some have considered that electrostimulation is contraindicated in oncology patients due to the scarcity of specific information about it, not the existence of evidence in its nature. against.

The complexity of each case demands a thorough evaluation and control of all the necessary variables to guarantee the correct implementation of a physical exercise program. It is crucial to have qualified personnel to introduce physical exercise as part of a comprehensive program to improve patient health.

Abraham Carlé Calo.
Graduated from CCAFYD Collegiate No. 57649.


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