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image of woman receiving electrotherapy.

We rely on electricity every day to light our homes and use appliances. With all its run-of-the-mill uses, you may have never considered that electricity could be used to reduce acute and chronic pain. How is electricity used to lessen pain? Electrotherapy directly blocks pain signals and encourages the body to release its own natural painkillers (endorphins).

Electrotherapy Uses and Benefits

The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes the use of electrotherapy for:

  • Pain management
  • Treatment of neuromuscular dysfunction
  • Tissue repair
  • Improving joint mobility
  • Treatment of edema (both acute and chronic)
  • Treatment of fecal and urinary incontinence
  • Treating abnormal peripheral blood flow
  • Treatment of atrophy

However, electrotherapy is mainly used by chiropractors to relax muscles, prevent muscle spasms, reduce pain, increase blood circulation, rehabilitate muscles and improve range of motion.

Electrotherapy Devices

There are three different stimulation devices that emit electricity, and each generates its own waveforms, frequencies and effects. All of the mechanisms employ electrical stimulation to muscles and nerves through adhesive pads, which are placed on the skin.

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Of the three, this is the most commonly used device. The intensity of the stimulation can be adjusted from low (<Hz) to high (60-200 Hz). High frequency stimulation may be bearable for hours, but pain relief does not last long. Low frequency stimulation, on the other hand, may only be tolerable for up to 30 minutes, but pain relief lasts longer. The electrodes — which emit alternating current — can be placed near the region of pain, over the area of pain, on the opposite side of the body or over the nerve transmitting pain.
  • Interferential current (IFC). This particular device is often used when users have not gotten any relief from TENS. It uses a high frequency (4000 Hz) carrier waveform with the similar signal and alternating current generated by the TENS unit, except the waveform with the IFC pierces the skin and muscles much deeper.
  • Galvanic stimulation (GS). If a patient has an acute injury related to tissue trauma (including swelling), GS may be recommended. While TENS and IFC units apply interchanging current, galvanic stimulators use direct current that produces an electrical field over the treated area. This modifies blood flow. The device uses both a positive electrode and a negative electrode. The positive pad works like ice, causing a reduction in circulation to the region directly under the bad. This helps to minimize swelling. The negative pad, in contrast, acts like heat, causing circulation to increase. This can speed up healing.

What Does Treatment Feel Like?

As the intensity increases, the patient will feel a tingling sensation on the skin, or the sensation will be reminiscent of a deep massage if the device is being used to penetrate and treat the muscles. All of this is normal.

What Are the Side Effects?

Though side effects are uncommon, they can occur. They may include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Cardiac arrhythmia in patients with heart problems or a pacemaker
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fetal damage if the woman is pregnant and the pads are placed over the uterus

To find out more, please contact our office.

Multicare Health Clinic

Phone Number: (712) 276-4325

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  • "Not only is my pain level down to zero, but what I'm really thrilled with, is that I have normal feeling in my hands."
    Jill L.
  • "Being able to present my back pain to three different professions in one place and knowing that they are working together to make me better is very comforting."
    Charlie P.
  • "Dr. Sneller helped. I haven't been feeling dizzy anymore."
    Belinda B
  • "My company encouraged all of us employees to get screened at Multicare. I didn't know what to expect. It was easy and I learned so much. The orthotics they prescribed really help me to feel more stable and confident at work."
    Jim J.
  • "There couldn't be a better physical therapy team in Siouxland! Not only did my knee feel so much better after six weeks, but I feel like I made new friends."
    Karla K.
  • "After an accident at work I didn't think I'd ever get relief from my aching shoulder. But, the doctors at Multicare gave me adjustments and physical therapy and now I feel normal again."
    Cliff C.
  • "I leave here feeling confident that I have the resources to manage my pain and live normally, and that's priceless."
    Alycen V.
  • "After my consultatin with the doctors at Multicare Health Clinic, I understand how to address my balance issues."
    Anna A.
  • "After my knee surgery I was asked where I wanted to do my physical therapy, I chose Multicare Health Clinic and I'm so glad I did! Dr. Steve and the therapy assistants (Sara and Megan) are fabulous! They know what they're doing and they all really seemed to care about my recovery. I'm feeling fantastic! I'll definitely go back again whenever I need therapy or adjustments."
    Sheri J.
  • "At night my right hand would go painfully numb at least 2-3 times where I could not sleep. Now, I don't have that pain and can get a full night sleep."
    Janet D.
  • "I'm so glad my sister referred me to Multicare! My elbow hasn't felt this good in a long time. Thanks to the great physical therapy team there."
    Ellen E.
  • "I now can go a full week without pain and headaches."
    Luke W.
  • "I'm a runner. When I wasn't able to run due to leg problems, I was devastated. But a consultation at Multicare Health Clinic identified the problem and after some adjustments, stimulation treatments and therapy, I'm running again!"
    Lisa L.
  • "I'm now a believer now! I didn't think chiropractic could help my foot problems. But after meeting with Dr. Pistello and Dr. Dave for a few weeks, I'm feeling so much better!"
    Gino G.
  • "My shoulder and neck feel so much better. I now have the knowledge, motivation, desire and tools to keep up the exercises."
    Barb B.
  • "I wasn't able to use my hand the way I should. After working with Dr. Sneller and the physical therapy team, I can use my hand again."
    Henry H.
  • "I wasn't able to use my hand the way I should. After working with Dr. Sneller and the physical therapy team, I can use my hand again."
    Ivy I.