Electrotherapy treatment is the use of an electric current to provide therapeutic effects on the body’s tissues. There are many different types of electrotherapy treatments available and their use varies widely between different therapists.
Healing effects of Electrotherapy
- Ease pain
- Reduce inflammation
- Decrease swelling
- Increase blood flow
- Increase cellular metabolism
- Improve blood supply to injured tissue
- Break down scar tissue and adhesions
- Increase tissue flexibility
- Decrease muscle spasm
- Increase cell regeneration
- Stimulate muscle contraction
How Electrotherapy works
Electrotherapy uses electrical signals to interfere with the transmission of neural pain signals into the brain. It effectively slows down or distracts the message from the nerve to the brain. From a physiotherapy point of view, affecting one’s ‘Pain Gate’, whether in an acute or chronic pain episode, is crucial area of treatment and electrotherapy is a very useful resource where conventional medicines are not as effective. Electrotherapy can also involve the use of this electric current to speed tissue healing where tissue damage has also occurred. There are two different forms of electrotherapy today, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and Interferential therapy.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
A small electrical device delivers electrical impulses through the skin. The device is connected by wires to sticky pad electrodes, which are placed on the skin in the area of the pain. This allows a small, low-intensity electric charge to be passed through the area.
There are Two Types of Frequencies that can be used:
On a high frequency it stimulates certain ‘non-pain’ nerve fibres to send signals to the brain that block other nerve signals carrying pain messages. High frequency stimulation, sometimes called “conventional” can be used for hours, but the pain relief lasts for a shorter period.
Lower frequencies stimulate the production of endorphins, natural pain-relieving hormones – your own built-in pain management system. Low-frequency stimulation, sometimes called “acupuncture-like”, it can be uncomfortable and is usually used for around 20-30 minutes, but the pain relief lasts much longer.
Rent a TENS unit before you buy
We encourage TENS users should experiment with various electrode placements to get the most pain relief. Electrodes can be placed over the painful area, surrounding the painful area, over the nerve supplying the painful area, or even on the opposite side of the body. TENS users need to try the unit for several days with several electrode placements before you decide to buy your own unit. Try the unit at home for a few days before you purchase a unit. Our practice rents TENS units for R300 per week, why not give it a try?
Here at Cilliers & Swart Physiotherapist we also use an electrotherapy modality called interferential therapy (IFT). It is essentially a deeper form of TENS that uses two high frequency currents which are slightly out of phase. The currents are passed through the skin at the same time, where they are set up so that their paths cross to simply interfere with each other. This interference causes a beat frequency which has the characteristics of low frequency stimulation deep under the skin.
Interferential therapy is administered by a physiotherapist and involves the placement of damp sponges on the body which deliver a mild current similar to the sensation of pins and needles. Manipulation of the current allows the physiotherapist to target the correct structure that needs treatment.
When do we use Interferential therapy?
- For pain relief (in a similar fashion to TENS)
- Muscle stimulation – prevent muscle wastage, re-education, maintain range of motion
- Increase local blood flow
- Reduce swelling
Stimulating Tissue Healing & Repair
In acute conditions, shorter treatment times of 5-10 minutes may be sufficient to achieve the effect. In other circumstances, it may be necessary to stimulate the tissues for 20-30 minutes. It is suggested that short treatment times are initially adopted especially with an acute case.
Electrotherapy is used is always uses as an additional extra to traditional physiotherapy treatments. Not all patients will need to get Electrotherapy so rather let our Physiotherapists give you advice. TENS units are available for sale or hire from Cilliers & Swart Physiotherapist and our physiotherapists can guide you on the correct programs that will be best suited for your condition.
If you would like to know more about Electrotherapy treatments, give us a call.