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Kyung Lee

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Is the use of EMS(electrical muscle stimulation) a form of doping?

This week in my bioelectricity class, we discussed electrical stimulation of the body. There are EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) devices that allow the user to stimulate and contract specific muscles by sending electrical impulses via electrode pads. EMS is sometimes used in competitive sports to increase exercise tolerance and manipulate the behavior of muscles favorably.

In 2011, a study revealed that EMS may enhance pitching performance and recovery in baseball. Without EMS, pitchers need to find a balance between resting and active exercise. With EMS, blood can continuously flow into the muscles, reducing the risk of exhaustion. There are other studies that show positive effects of EMS on athletic performance such as helping athletes stay warmed up without fatiguing the muscles, while the validity of these claims have not been confirmed. There are coaches that use EMS training on elite athletes who compete in the Olympics.

I’d like to pose a question, is the use of EMS in competitive sports a form of doping? While eating healthy or regular exercise can shape and improve an athlete’s performance, the use of EMS seems to be a more direct and invasive way of making the athlete’s body more fit for the sport. If the EMS technology advances enough to the extent where it can significantly improve athletic performance, do you think it is legitimate or fair to use EMS in competitive sports?

Topics: ems

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  • Mar 10 2013: The EMS technique is also used to treat muscle pain of many kinds, such as chronic back pain or leg nerve pain. There are two things distinguish it from doping. One is that there are many "treatments" to relax muscle or reduce the muscle pain or soreness, such as hot or ice packs. There are also power enhancing exercises which are , though less effective, still strengthen the muscle in sports. So its is kind of difficult to designate it as doping. There are already miniature EMS used in treating muscle pain or injury of many sites in the body. Even the most powerful machines would not prevent some athletes earning mega bucks to privately own one in their home. The second point is that ,because of it's not too expensive and it is not listed as illegal substance, then it is very difficult to detect and prove such "substance" on the athletes. Furthermore, how can the sports authority determine that the EMS is doping, but ice pack or whirlpool hot bath is not, since all of them are methods for relieving pain and soreness. And similar reasons apply the EMS and muscle training because both are strength-enhancing methods.
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      Mar 10 2013: I had the same question when a chiropractor treated my back pain with EMS and told me how it's used in sports.

      I agree with your argument that if we prohibit EMS as performance-enhancing method, why allow massage, sauna, and ice packs? Regarding fairness, if it's not harmful to the athlete, what prevents everyone to use it? Another point is enforceability of the rule. How can use of EMS be detected?

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