Electrotherapy is an umbrella term encompassing many different treatments that can be used in pain control.
Electrical stimulation to reduce pain was first idealised in ancient Rome, 63 AD by Scribonius Largus, the personal physician to Emperor Claudius. He was an early advocate of the treatment and said his pain was relieved by standing on an electrical fish at the edge of the sea. Granted he did then put electrical fishes onto his patients' head to treat headaches!
Electrotherapy, now modernised by the use of 21st century machines (you’ll be pleased to note), uses electrical signals to interfere with the transmission of neural pain signals to the brain. Sports therapists describe this as ‘Pain Gate’. In other words, pain is perceived when the gate gives way to the pain signals and it is reduced when the gate closes.
At SV Sports Therapy, we most commonly use the following two electrotherapy treatments:
Ultrasound is the most widely used of the electrotherapy treatments in current clinical practice. Ultrasonic waves cause a high-speed vibration of the cells by contact between the applicator of the machine and the skin using a water-based gel. This increases the blood flow and stimulates the production of collagen fibres, reducing pain and inflammation. It is a fairly painless treatment and most clients will just describe it as being cold, due to the gel application.
What can you expect?
The coupling gel will be placed on the injured area and the therapist will then use the ultrasound head in small circular movements for anything between 5 - 15 minutes. Intensities will vary upon the duration of injury, ie whether it has just happened or has been there a while. Change of intensity will not feel any different on your skin.
Interferential therapy sends low frequency electrical currents across the injured body site, encouraging cellular changes and distracting neural pain signals to the brain. It involves the placement of damp sponges via vacuum cups which deliver a mild current, similar to the sensation of pins and needles. Evidentially, it has been found to be effective for pain relief, muscle stimulation and reduction of inflammation and swelling.
What can you expect?
The therapist will place four cups with electrodes across the injured area. They will then start to turn up the machine slowly until a tingling sensation is felt. It is then important to try and increase the intensity until a point which feels comfortable but strong. Your body will get used to this feeling and it will feel less intense throughout the session. The interferential can be left on your skin from 5 to 15 minutes.
What injuries can be treated with electrotherapy?
• Tendinitis/tendinopathy • Muscle tears and strains • Ligament tears and strains • Frozen shoulder • Plantarfasciitis • Chronic lower back pain
Electrotherapy is used alongside other sports therapy treatments and is not always used with every client.
If you would like to book an appointment or would like more information on electrotherapy, please contact us.
Alternatively, you can follow electrotherapy researcher Professor Tim Watson on Twitter for research-based articles and reviews.