The idea of placing electrodes on the skin is a scary thought for many people. This form of treatment, called electrical stimulation, is safe and effective but there are some important facts to know before seeking this treatment.
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Types of Electrial Stimulation
Depending on the type of injury sustained, there are various electrical stimulation parameters. The electrical stimulation chosen is based on which goal is being addressed during treatment. The main uses are for pain relief, muscle strengthening, muscle re-education, tissue healing and swelling. Most injuries have pain associated with the injury site. Transcutaneous electrical stimulation and interferential current are effective at addressing this pain. Electrical stimulation controls pain by interfering with the pain signals at the spinal cord level.
If a muscle has become atrophied from injury or lack of use, Russian setting can be used. This setting causes a muscle contraction helping to strengthen the area. Treatment may also involve using iontophoresis. This form of electrical stimulation drives medication into the skin. A common use of this is for the application of anti-inflammatory medications to an inflamed area.
Electrical stimulation is a relatively safe treatment with very few adverse effects. The treatment is generally not painful but a tingling sensation will be felt. If a patient does not tolerate the treatment a trained clinician can adjust the parameters to make the treatment more tolerable. Potential side effects may include: burns over treatment site, skin irritation and pain during treatment.
There are many contraindications or reasons to not use electrical stimulation. You should not use electrical stimulation if you have a pacemaker or heart arrhythmias. This treatment also shouldn't be used over the throat and side of the neck, over areas with a known blood clot, over or around the abdomen or low back in pregnant women. Special caution should be taken with cardiac disease, impaired mental capacity or impaired sensation, malignant tumor, skin irritation, or open wounds.
Who Provides This Treatment?
Electrical stimulation is a very beneficial treatment but should only be provided by a trained expert. Physical therapists endure vigorous coursework and training for seven years and use electrical stimulation on a daily basis to help patients with injuries and ailments. Patients with chronic pain will sometimes use a portable electrical stimulation unit at home. A medical professional can make that recommendation if it is appropriate.
- "Physical Agents in Rehabilitation: From Research to Practice" (2nd ed.); Michelle H. Cameron; 2003
- PubMed.gov: Physical agents used in the management of chronic pain by physical therapists