Compex

Now, when I tell people that as part of their rehab I might be electrocuting them, the facial expressions are a range of concerned to amused with a mix of inquisitive anxiety. To save the emotional roller coaster, I’m going to explain that it is not as bad as it sounds and let you know about all the benefits. Just one being you get 30 minutes to relax and let the machine do its thing!

So what is a compex? It’s a form of electrical stimulation. Everyone has nerves that run throughout their body, the nerves are all connected to the spinal cord, which plugs into the brain. Think of it as wiring from the hard drive out to all the components of your body. When the brain decides to switch on a muscle it sends a signal down one of these nerves which then sends an electrical impulse all the way to the muscle to make it move.

Sometimes when there has been an injury to an area, despite signals from the brain, the nerve impulses just don’t switch on the muscle properly. This is when you feel your muscle isn’t as toned or as strong as before. The problem with this is that the joint that the muscle moves becomes unstable and is more likely to suffer wear and tear and become painful. The whole point of our muscles is to move and stabilise our joints. This is where the compex comes in.

If you’ve ever seen a TENS machine or had an ECG it is very similar in the sense that we have sticky electrodes that attach to your skin with wires attached to them. The wires run into a little handheld battery pack and computer that looks like a very old, knock off GameBoy! The compex machine has different settings, which run on different electrical frequencies. Muscles that move the joints are stimulated at a different level to the smooth muscle that helps with fluid movement. So we pick a setting based on what we want to improve.

Say the muscles of your thigh have wasted away compared to the other side. We would attach the electrodes to those muscles at certain points and switch the machine to muscle building. What happens then is the electricity from the machine bypasses your nerves and switches the muscles on using an electrical current from the outside. The muscles visibly contract and become hard, in between each contraction the machine will pulse the muscles gently and then contract again. The cycle lasts between 20-30 minutes. We start with you just sitting still and watching the action happen. After this we can start using the compex to help you complete your exercises.

Another function of the compex is effusion reduction. When there is swelling around a joint, stump or muscle the muscles in that area can’t work properly and there isn’t enough room for the joint to move. The compex has a setting that helps accelerate the reduction to the swelling. We just attach the electrodes above and below the swelling, switch it on and wait while it works its magic.

The compex allows us to not only accelerate a reduction swelling, but also accelerate the switching on and strengthening of your muscles and improving the muscle bulk. It means we can get you working on your rehab exercises at a more advanced level. It doesn’t do all the hard work for you, but it gives you that leg up to get kick started.

I asked a few clients to describe their time on the compex to give you an insight of first-hand experience:

 “It’s a tingling sensation that gets intense when the muscle switches on, it’s not painful but it does feel very strange.”

  • “It’s a great way to keep exercising without being on your feet.”
  • “It feels like I’m cheating and getting more out of my exercises than I could alone.”
  • “The electrodes are really cold, I swear Beth puts them in the fridge, but that’s the only bad part, I loved it.”

I swear I do not put them in the fridge and shall endeavour to warm them up in my hands in future!

Please email Beth with any questions you may have - bethl@dorset-ortho.com