Electrotherapy – Wellness

Introduction – Electrotherapy

Electrotherapy is the use of electrical energy for medical treatment.  In medicine, the electrotherapy can be applied in various ways. This includes the use of electrical devices such as deep brain stimulators for neurological diseases as well as use of electric current to facilitated wound healing. Also, the term “electrotherapy” or “electromagnetic therapy” is utilised in wide range of alternative medical devices and treatments. The electrical therapy is widely used for treating various psychiatric disorders in the form of electro-convulsive therapy.

Electricity can also be used to alleviate pain for many years. Scientific research has proven that electricity can reduce both acute and chronic type of pain.

The efficacy of electrotherapy in the treatment of chronic wounds and pressure ulcers is still to be understood and proven.
The exact mechanism of action of beneficial effects of electrical stimulation is still controversial. The proposed mechanisms are that the electrical stimulation can directly block transmission of pain signals in neural pathways or it can promote release of natural pain relieving chemicals produced by the body itself such as endorphins.

Electrical stimulation devices-

There are various electrical stimulation devices available in this therapy and each device produces different frequencies, waveforms, and thus, the effects also. Electrical stimulation modalities include:

  1. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). This is most commonly used method.
  2. Interferential Current (IFC)
  3. Galvanic Stimulation (GS)

The use of electrotherapy has been researched and accepted in the field of rehabilitation in various diseases. The commonbenefits of Electrotherapy include:

  1. In pain management- it improves range of joint motion.
  2. Treatment of neuromuscular dysfunction- this has many benefits like
  • Improvement of muscle strength
  • Motor control improvement
  • Slows down muscular atrophy
  • Improves the local blood flow
  1. It induces repeated stretching of contracted, shortened soft tissues
  2. Tissue repair- the electrotherapy improves the microcirculation in capillaries and also augments protein synthesis for wound healing. It can restore the integrity of connective and dermal tissues
  3. Acute and chronic edema- in case of edema, the electricity increases absorption rate, adjusts vessel permeability and increases lymphatic flow.
  4. The electricity also augments arterial, venous and lymphatic flow
  5. Iontophoresis- this method is used for delivery of pharmacological agents.
  6. Urine and fecal incontinence.

Some uses of electrotherapy:

Some of the mechanisms of action are still less understood. However, electrotherapy is used for:

  1. For relaxation of muscle spasms
  2. Prevention and retardation of disuse atrophy
  3. In muscle rehabilitation and re-education
  4. For maintaining and increasing range of motion
  5. Management of chronic and intractable pain,
  6. In acute post-traumatic pain
  7. For stimulation of muscles after the surgery to prevent venous thrombosis
  8. For wound healing and drug delivery.

The efficacy of electrotherapy in the treatment of chronic wounds and pressure ulcers is still to be understood and proven. It is postulated to speed the healing of such wounds as well as pressure sores.

Electrotherapy stimulation:

In all electrical stimulation modalities like TENS, IFC, and GS, a controlled electrical stimulation is applied to nerves and muscles through adhesive pads placed on the skin. These devices are drivenby batteries, and some units are provided with an adapter to use external source of power.

The TENS unit can also be used by the patient at home for back pain relief on a long-term basis. The interferential current is essentially a deeper form of TENS. The IFC modulates a high frequency (4000 Hz) carrier waveform.

Galvanic stimulation is most useful in cases of acute injuries which usually happen with major tissue trauma. The acute injuries usually are associated with bleeding or swelling. Galvanic stimulation applies direct current in contrast to TENS and IFC units, which apply alternating current.

Side effects are rare with electrical therapy, but can include:

  1. Allergic skin reaction under the adhesive pads
  2. Temporary pain from the electrical charge.
  3. Cardiac arrhythmias can be caused if the pads are placed over the heart or over pacemaker leads.
  4. Placing the stimulator over the throat can cause low blood pressure
  5. If they are placed over a pregnant uterus, it can probably cause fetal damage.

Because of the above risks, electrical stimulation should be avoided over these areas.Electrical stimulation should also not be applied over malignancies or infected areas.

- Links of interest: Twitter Wellness

This article is not medical advice nor a substitute to professional health advice. Always consult a doctor.


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