Electrotherapy is a physical therapeutic treatment to provide pain relief and promote healing of bone, muscle and ligament injuries. This drug-free, non-invasive therapy uses small electrical impulses to repair tissue, stimulate muscles, improve muscle strength and increase muscle sensitivity. During electrotherapy treatments, either alternating or direct current is applied to the muscles or body tissues to stimulate healing of the damaged areas. In most cases, alternating current is applied because it is much more effective. Generally, Electrotherapy for pain management works in two levels. First, the electrical stimulation directly blocks transmission of pain signals along nerves. In addition to this, it also activates the release of endorphins, the body's natural pain relievers in the brain. Electrotherapeutic devices come in different forms – Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, Electrical Muscle Stimulation, Interferential Current and Galvanic stimulation. Of these, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is the most commonly used for pain management. If you concerned about taking pain relief medications because of the possible side effects and health risks, consider electrotherapy - a non-invasive pain relief technology!

The Procedure

Electrotherapy that passes regulated doses of electric current is indeed a novel idea for pain relief. Currently, the most common forms of electrotherapy use alternating current in transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Here, your Sports doctor or Therapist places electrodes on or near the area of pain and administers adjustable levels of electricity via the electrodes through your skin and along the nerve fibers. The electrodes are held in place with the help of adhesives and attached to a machine that releases low-frequency electrical pulses into the painful joint or area of the body. These electric signals actually slows down the transmission of neural pain signals to the brain and also encourages the body to produce higher levels of its own natural pain killing chemicals called Endorphins and Encephalin.

The Symptoms

Electrotherapy may be needed for

  • Athletes, especially baseball players with throwing injuries, volleyball players who experience pain due to repetitive overhead hitting and serving motions, golfers and tennis players with back, shoulder, and elbow problems and cyclists or runners or rowers with tendonitis or bursitis around the hips, knees and ankles
  • Patients who have had a leg or an arm in a cast for several weeks
  • Patients with Tennis elbow, Achilles tendinitis and Plantar or Fasciitis
  • Those suffering from chronic or long-term back pain
  • Patients looking for wound healing, especially for pressure ulcers
  • Those looking for pain relief following a sports injury, surgery, arthritis, tendinitis, muscle weakness or even depression

The Eligibility

Electrotherapy modalities are ideal for

  • Athletes who wish to optimize their muscular qualities, to speed up recovery after an intense workout, to prevent injuries and to relieve pain
  • Those looking for muscle reeducation, relaxation of muscle spasm, edema reduction and enhanced blood flow
  • Those who want to stay in good shape
  • Those who want to relieve pain by avoiding or limiting the use of drugs that cause unwanted side effects

The Risks Involved

As electrotherapy is non-invasive and drug-free, use of these medical devices provide pain relief without compromising on your health. It uses skin surface electrodes so the electrical stimulations penetrate to a depth of 1-2 inches only. Such a small electrical current does not pose any serious danger. Hence, risks are rare, but some may experience allergic skin irritation due to the adhesive pads or conductive gel or the material of the electrodes. Some report transient pain from the electrical charge.

The Impact

As our body's nerves are electrical conductors, stimulating the nerve endings with small electrical current can produce beneficial results. Yes, the electrical impulses sent create a pumping action within the muscle helping it to relax. It also ‘penetrates tissue without invasion’ to promote tissue repair, relieve pain and improve blood flow. While this therapy may help some people, the effects of one session do not seem to last long. You may need repeated sessions to see a longer lasting effect on pain. Various studies have also evidenced the effectiveness of electrotherapy at about 70 to 80 per cent in alleviating pain.

Electrotherapy modalities have long been a viable option for pain management. This simple drug-free solution – blocks the pain message, triggers endorphins and enhances blood circulation to promote healing and relaxation! For drug-free pain relief, particularly with long-term conditions, you will definitely find electrotherapy worth trying!