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What Are the Contraindications Associated With Electrical Stimulation Therapy?

Amy Friedl, MS, OTR/L

May 15, 2024



What are the contraindications associated with electrical stimulation therapy?


Electrical stimulation therapy offers numerous benefits for rehabilitation and pain management, but it's crucial to be aware of its contraindications to ensure patient safety and efficacy. Contraindications encompass a range of conditions and situations where electrical stimulation should either be avoided entirely or used with extreme caution.

Firstly, individuals with pacemakers, defibrillators, or any other implanted electrical devices are at risk when exposed to external electrical stimulation. The interaction between the implanted device and external electrical signals could disrupt the function of the implant, potentially leading to life-threatening complications.

Furthermore, applying electrical stimulation over broken bones is contraindicated. Doing so could interfere with the healing process, exacerbate existing injuries, or cause discomfort and further complications.

Pregnancy presents another contraindication for electrical stimulation therapy. While the effects of electrical stimulation on pregnancy aren't fully understood, it's generally recommended to avoid such interventions during pregnancy due to potential risks to both the mother and fetus.

Stimulating over tumors is also ill-advised. This practice could inadvertently promote blood circulation to the tumor site, potentially accelerating tumor growth or metastasis. Therefore, caution must be exercised to avoid inadvertently exacerbating the patient's condition.

Metal implants pose another consideration. While modern implants are typically made of materials like titanium, which are less prone to interference, it's still essential to assess the type and location of the implant. Certain metals may still react to electrical stimulation, causing discomfort or even damage to the implant site.

Individuals with sensory or cognitive deficits require special attention when considering electrical stimulation therapy. Those who cannot communicate discomfort or pain due to cognitive impairments should be carefully evaluated and monitored to ensure their safety during stimulation sessions. Additionally, individuals with sensory deficits may not perceive discomfort from faulty stimulation parameters, underscoring the importance of vigilant monitoring and adjustment.

In summary, understanding and adhering to these contraindications are paramount for electrical stimulation therapy's safe and effective application in clinical practice. Collaboration with healthcare professionals, thorough patient assessment, and vigilant monitoring are essential to mitigate risks and optimize treatment outcomes.


This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Stroke, Electrical Stimulation, And Therapyby Amy Friedl, MS, OTR/L.

amy friedl

Amy Friedl, MS, OTR/L

Amy Friedl has been a clinician in neurology for most of her 30+ year career. She left the clinic and went to research full-time, mostly with neurological studies and electrical stimulation. She has assisted in the development of stimulators both for research and commercially.

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