Electrotherapy, is a medical treatment that uses an electrical current to treat pain, muscle loss or weakness, and depression. Although the idea of being treated using electricity might sound a little strange (electroshock is not a word that has nice connotations for most people) the truth is that electricity has been used to treat these types of symptoms for a very long time. In actuality, electricity is one of the safest, most effective ways to treat pain and other types of illness. Because electrotherapy is not a drug and leaves no traces in the system, it has very few side effects.
The History of Electrotherapy
In the year 1855 Guillaume DuChenne, (he would later be known as the father of modern electrotherapy), took as evidence that muscle contractions took place upon electric stimulation, and concluded that this type of shock was a way to act upon the nervous system– for good and for bad, it was discovered.
Electrotherapy has never had a really good reputation. Even now, when studies show that electrotherapy can have a positive influence on the nervous system and help to build muscle, there are lots of “quacks” and cheat products on the market to trick desperate people out of their money. This makes it difficult to find legitimate information about how well electrotherapy works.
What is Electrotherapy?
How is this kind of therapy supposed to work? In general, electrotherapy delivers a small, pulsating current to the muscles and nerve endings. This electrical current will cause the muscles to contract and relax, contract and relax. After time, repeated stimulations cause the muscles to strengthen and relax– reducing pain.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS)
There are several kind of electrotherapy used today. The most common is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators, or TENS. TENS machines can be purchased and used at home (generally for back or other muscular pain), which allows the user to treat the problem at his or her convenience. The frequency of the electrical signal is also adjustable, allowing patients to decide on the length and intensity of the treatment itself. With TENS treatment, higher frequency signal can be withstood for hours, as it causes little discomfort. However, high-frequency TENS treatment lasts relatively little time. Low-frequency TENS treatment is more uncomfortable, and can generally be endured for only 20-30 minutes. Its effects, however, last significantly longer.
Interferential Current (IFC)
Another kind of electrotherapy is called Interferential Current (IFC) and is essentially a deeper form of TENS. It allows the current to penetrate the skin more deeply than a TENS treatment– it also gives the user less discomfort for a higher level of stimulation.
Galvanic Stimulation (GS)
The last common kind of electrotherapy is Galvanic Stimulation (GS). GS is most useful in treating acute injuries accompanied with bleeding or swelling. Unlike TENS or IFC, which apply an alternating current, GS units apply direct current to the area, and can be used to stop swelling or speed healing.