CDC estimates report that approximately one in five Americans, or as many as fifty million people, suffer from chronic pain. A little over nineteen million of those people suffer to the point that it disrupts their daily lives. Many people have tried countless medications in an attempt to find some relief. But even for those who manage to find medication that works for them, side effects are not always pleasant and long-term use can be dangerous. For those who have tried other solutions that haven’t worked or for those just starting out on their journey to combat pain, electric stimulation is one alternative that might help.
What is Electric Stimulation?
One theory is that electrical stimulation works by blocking or interrupting pain messages that nerves send to the brain. The nerves send signals to the brain indicating that pain is present, but if those messages are blocked, then the brain doesn’t know there is pain, so the body doesn’t experience it.
Another theory is that electrical stimulation somehow makes the body produce more endorphins, which are the body’s own natural pain relievers. So, the body may technically still be experiencing pain, but the flood of endorphins helps to relieve it before it is noticed.
Electrical therapies work by attaching electrodes to the skin. A machine sends mild electric currents to the electrodes. The currents used are very low, so a patient might feel some tingling or warmth, but shouldn’t feel a big shock. Sessions may be repeated frequently, if needed. Each session usually lasts up to fifteen minutes.
The goal is to reduce pain and improve quality of life. Electrical therapies treat pain from a variety of diseases and conditions, including fibromyalgia, migraines, and diabetic neuropathy. They can also promote bone growth and help to heal wounds. Electrical stimulation is often more affordable than other pain treatments, and many professionals also consider it less risky than some of the alternatives, such as medications and surgery.
Some of the Major Electrical Stimulation Therapies
Now that you know what electrical stimulation is and a little about how it works, you might be wondering about the different forms available. There are several methods of electrical stimulation and each one works in a slightly different way. Below are some of the highlights of a few of the major forms of treatment available.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
- One of the most widely used
- Uses sticky electrodes to deliver current
- Can deliver electrical stimulation in variable complex patterns
- Vary in length and frequency
- Small devices that strap to the body are available
Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS)
- Uses tiny needles to deliver current
- Electrical stimulation is delivered closer to the nerves
- Good for reducing muscle spasms
- Treatments last about a half hour
- Targets muscles instead of nerves
- Prompts muscles to contract and strengthen
- Works for severe and less serious conditions
- One of the best electrical stimulation therapies for severe muscle injuries
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF)
- Used for pain relief
- Improves cellular function
- Promotes bone fusion and growth
- Treats back and leg pain
- Reduces pain from osteoarthritis of the knee
Interferential Current (IFC)
- Deeper penetration than TENS
- Higher frequency but lower level of comparative discomfort
- Treats muscle spasms and edema
- Encourages rapid healing
- Improves range of motion
- Treats circulatory disorders
Galvanic Stimulation (GS)
- Provides a direct, non-alternating, current
- Treats major tissue trauma
- Good for treating balance issues in the ear
- Direct current creates changes in blood flow
- Minimizes swelling by reducing circulation in targeted areas
- Speedier healing through increasing circulation in other targeted areas
When is Electrical Stimulation Advised and Who Administers it?
While electrical stimulation therapies are sometimes used alone, they are often used in conjunction with other therapies. For instance, electrical stimulation might help to reduce pain for a physical therapy patient allowing them to continue exercise. It can also be a good alternative or co-treatment to medications.
Electrical stimulation is administered in a variety of medical settings, including physical therapy and chiropractic offices. There are some small units available for purchase for home use, but it is best to wait until after you’ve had an evaluation by a qualified health care professional.
Are There Any Side Effects from Electric Stimulation?
As with any type of medical therapy there can be some side effects. The most common side effect of electric stimulation is a rash or skin irritation from the adhesive from the electrodes. Patients may also feel a burning sensation on the skin from overuse of electrical stimulation. Also, bruising, bleeding, and infections can sometimes occur when using one of the types of therapy that penetrate the skin.
In general, pregnant women and people with pace makers should not use electrical stimulation. It can cause fetal damage in pregnant women if electrodes are over the abdomen. It can also result in cardiac arrhythmia if an electrode is near the heart or pacemaker leads.
Of course, there can be side effects or risks associated with any type of therapy. It’s important to consult with your medical care team before beginning any type of electrical stimulation therapy. A qualified professional such as a physician or chiropractor will be able to give recommendations and advice.
Electrical stimulation is a viable solution to your pain management needs. There are many varieties of treatment available to suit every individual. They are affordable and are often covered by insurance. In addition, many experts consider them less risky than some of the other major alternatives. In this day and age, you don’t have to live in pain. Make an appointment to see your physician or chiropractor today and discover what electrical stimulation therapy can do for you.
If you would like to learn more about using electrical stimulation to reduce chronic pain, please contact A Family Chiropractic Clinic at (940) 566-0000. They will conduct a thorough examination and help determine whether electrical stimulation is appropriate for you. They’ll also help you understand the various stages of the treatment and what to expect each time.