Electro-stimulation therapy (also called electrotherapy) is a treatment used by chiropractors and other health care practitioners that utilizes electrical frequencies and waveforms to relieve both chronic and acute pain and speed the healing of damaged tissues.
This therapy was first developed in 1855 by the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne, who discovered that using an alternating current on a patient with a nervous or muscular disorder had a therapeutic effect.
Though the mechanism by which electro-stimulation therapy works is not precisely known, it is believed that stimulation with electrical pulses may block the transmission of pain signals along the nerves, in addition to stimulating the release of pain-killing natural endorphins. In addition, the electrical pulses fatigue the muscle tissues, causing a release of tension and increasing blood flow to the area. This enhances the amount of nutrients brought to the area of affected muscle tissue while at the same time helping to clear away accumulated toxins.
The most commonly used forms of electro-stimulation therapy are Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), Interferential Current (IFC) and Galvanic Stimulation (GS). Each produce different waveforms, frequencies and effects, though all use the same method of applying adhesive pads to the skin that deliver electrical stimulation to the nerves and muscles.
The use of electrotherapy is known to be helpful for a number of situations, including:
- Reducing the intensity of muscle spasms
- Improving range of motion in joints due to injury or arthritis
- Treating neuromuscular dysfunction by increasing strength, motor control and blood flow and retarding atrophy of muscles
- Speeding tissue repair by stimulating microcirculation and enhancing the health of connective and dermal tissues
- Reducing swelling by speeding the rate of fluid absorption and affecting the permeability of blood vessels
- Increasing muscle strength
Chiropractors treat many people with back pain or spasms by incorporating electrotherapy into their practice. Patients receiving electro stimulation therapy generally lie on the treatment table, as they would for an adjustment. Then two electrical pads will be applied to the area that needs treatment. A low electrical frequency is used at first, and this level is raised gradually to the patient’s comfort level. If the patient finds the frequency is too high, it can be turned down.
Contrary to what one might imagine, electrotherapy is not at all painful. The sensation begins as a tingling feeling, then develops into a sensation similar to a massage as the frequency increases. A therapy session usually lasts from 10 to 15 minutes. Though it is most commonly used on the back, electro-stimulation therapy is also used on the limbs or wherever there are muscle spasms.
In tandem with the use of electrotherapy, your chiropractor may suggest special stretches and massage therapy to help restore strength and resiliency to damaged muscles.