We rely on electricity every day to light our homes and use appliances. With all its run-of-the-mill uses, you may have never considered that electricity could be used to reduce acute and chronic pain. How is electricity used to lessen pain? Electrotherapy directly blocks pain signals and encourages the body to release its own natural painkillers (endorphins).

Electrotherapy Uses and Benefits

The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes the use of electrotherapy for:

  • Pain management
  • Treatment of neuromuscular dysfunction
  • Tissue repair
  • Improving joint mobility
  • Treatment of edema (both acute and chronic)
  • Treatment of fecal and urinary incontinence
  • Treating abnormal peripheral blood flow
  • Treatment of atrophy

However, electrotherapy is mainly used by chiropractors to relax muscles, prevent muscle spasms, reduce pain, increase blood circulation, rehabilitate muscles and improve range of motion.

Electrotherapy Devices

There are three different stimulation devices that emit electricity, and each generates its own waveforms, frequencies and effects. All of the mechanisms employ electrical stimulation to muscles and nerves through adhesive pads, which are placed on the skin.

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Of the three, this is the most commonly used device. The intensity of the stimulation can be adjusted from low (<Hz) to high (60-200 Hz). High frequency stimulation may be bearable for hours, but pain relief does not last long. Low frequency stimulation, on the other hand, may only be tolerable for up to 30 minutes, but pain relief lasts longer. The electrodes — which emit alternating current — can be placed near the region of pain, over the area of pain, on the opposite side of the body or over the nerve transmitting pain.
  • Interferential current (IFC). This particular device is often used when users have not gotten any relief from TENS. It uses a high frequency (4000 Hz) carrier waveform with the similar signal and alternating current generated by the TENS unit, except the waveform with the IFC pierces the skin and muscles much deeper.
  • Galvanic stimulation (GS). If a patient has an acute injury related to tissue trauma (including swelling), GS may be recommended. While TENS and IFC units apply interchanging current, galvanic stimulators use direct current that produces an electrical field over the treated area. This modifies blood flow. The device uses both a positive electrode and a negative electrode. The positive pad works like ice, causing a reduction in circulation to the region directly under the bad. This helps to minimize swelling. The negative pad, in contrast, acts like heat, causing circulation to increase. This can speed up healing.
What Does Treatment Feel Like?

As the intensity increases, the patient will feel a tingling sensation on the skin, or the sensation will be reminiscent of a deep massage if the device is being used to penetrate and treat the muscles. All of this is normal.

What Are the Side Effects?

Though side effects are uncommon, they can occur. They may include:

  • Allergic reaction
  • Cardiac arrhythmia in patients with heart problems or a pacemaker
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fetal damage if the woman is pregnant and the pads are placed over the uterus

IFC, TENS and GS can be used in-home. These devices are powered by batteries, but may also come with an adapter to allow it to be plugged into an outlet. To reduce your risk of side effects and to reduce your chance of injury, it is best to consult with your chiropractor prior to use. He or she can show you how to properly use the device, can test the device out to see which intensity works best for you and can explain safety guidelines. For instance, electrodes should never be placed over the heart, throat, uterus (if pregnant), open wounds or areas of irritation.

To find out more, please contact our office.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS)

Woman having electrotherapy on white backgroundElectricity is all around us. It powers the lights in our homes and buildings and it allows us to use appliances, among other things. But one way it’s being used in chiropractic treatment is to reduce acute and chronic pain by obstructing pain signals and helping the body release endorphins (the body’s own natural painkillers).

The technique is known as electrotherapy, and there are three different stimulation devices associated with it — one of them is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Each device produces its own frequency, effect and wavelength, but all use adhesive pads or electrodes — which are placed on the skin — to emit electrical stimulation to nerves and muscles.

What Is TENS and How Does It Work?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation uses a small, battery-powered machine — around the size of a pocket radio — to transmit low-voltage electrical current (up to 200 Hz) to provide pain relief. The electrodes are connected to the machine and span out so that they can release a stable flow of electrical current or a surge of electrical current when placed:

  • Over the region of pain
  • On the opposing side of the body
  • Near the area of pain
  • Over the nerve spreading pain

Your chiropractor will help you determine the proper setting, and, after receiving instruction on how to use the device and this therapy, you can use the device to treat yourself at home.

At its highest frequency stimulation, many users are able to tolerate treatment for hours; however, pain relief is short lived. When low frequency stimulation is implemented, the patient may be able to tolerate treatment for 30 minutes, and pain relief lasts longer.

When the current is dispensed, the expectation is that the patient will have less pain due to one of two theories:

  1. The electricity released from the electrodes arouses the nerves and transmits signals to the brain that help it block pain signals.
  2. Awakening the nerves may encourage the body to generate endorphins, which, in turn, may prevent the patient’s pain awareness.
What Is TENS Used For?

TENS can be used to treat different conditions, but is most often used to treat problems of the bones, joints and muscles, such as:

  • Low back or neck pain
  • Tendinitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Labor pain
  • Pain associated with cancer
Is TENS Safe?

TENS is safe, but, as with any device, complications can arise if the product is misused. Therefore, it is important that the patient consult with their chiropractor before use and follow his / her instructions carefully.

Interferential Current (IFC)

Each day, we use electricity to light our homes and operate the appliances that make everyday tasks simpler. However, you might be surprised to learn that electricity — with its many uses — is being utilized in chiropractic treatment to reduce acute and chronic pain.

How Does Electrotherapy Work?

Known as electrotherapy, there are three different stimulation devices, and each generates its own effect, wavelength and frequency. One of those devices is called interferential current (IFC). It, like the other two devices, uses electrodes. These electrodes are connected to the machine, but also extend outward. These extensions are covered by adhesive pads that are placed on the skin, and through these pads a steady flow of electrical current or a surge of electrical current is released in order to stimulate the muscles and nerves.

When the current is released, the expectation is that one of two things will happen:

  1. The nerves will be awakened and encourage the body to produce its own natural painkillers (endorphins).
  2. The electricity emanated from the electrodes provokes the nerves to send signals to the brain, allowing it to block pain signals.
About Interferential Current (IFC)

This device is commonly used when users have not obtained enough relief from the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device, which is another type of electrotherapy. Thought of as a deeper form of TENS, interferential current uses a higher frequency.

Whereas TENS maxes out at 200 Hz, the IFC device has a much higher frequency at 4000 Hz. Also, when the current is applied to the skin, skin resistance declines while pulse frequency rises. This allows IFC to penetrate the skin with more ease and with less stimulation than TENS, but it reaches greater depths and does so over a wider range of tissue. It also improves circulation.

IFC Uses

Because IFC is able to reach greater depths and boost circulation, IFC is able to treat edema (swelling) and inflammation caused by soft tissue irritation.

It is more commonly used, however, to treat acute and chronic pain associated with:

  • Back pain
  • Sprains and strains
  • Nerve damage
  • Arthritis
  • Shingles
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Interstitial cystitis (bladder inflammation)
Is IFC Safe?

The most common side effect associated with IFC is skin irritation at the treatment site. That said, IFC is noninvasive and safe. However, like any device, if it is used improperly, adverse reactions can arise. This is why it’s important to consult with your chiropractor before starting treatments at home. He or she will advise you on how to use the device properly and will help you determine the frequency that is right for your and the symptoms / condition you are aiming to treat.

Galvanic Stimulation (GS)

Electrical stimulation is being used in chiropractic treatment to help patients manage acute and chronic pain associated with trauma (e.g., an automobile accident). Known as electrotherapy, there are three stimulation devices. One of those apparatuses is called galvanic stimulation (GS), and it has its own wavelength, frequency and effect.

How Does Galvanic Stimulation Compare With Other Forms of Electrotherapy?

Therapist Placing Electrodes On Woman's KneeLike the other two machines — transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and interferential current (IFC) — galvanic stimulation uses electrodes. These electrodes are linked to the device on one end, with the other end extending outward. Its extensions have endings that are enclosed in adhesive pads. These pads are placed on the skin and allow a rush of electrical current to be released for the purpose of stimulating the nerves and muscles.

Once the current is discharged, the patient will hopefully experience less pain, because the device attempts to do one of two things:

  1. Arouse the nerves and trigger the body to make more of its own natural painkillers (endorphins)
  2. Encourage the nerves to send signals to the brain that instruct it to halt pain signals

However, unlike TENS and IFC, which both apply alternating current, galvanic stimulation uses direct current that can be applied in a sequence of pulses or in a steady flow. With direct current, an electrical field is generated over the treatment area. This, theoretically, alters the patient’s blood flow. Armed with two pads, the positive pad of the device acts like ice and decreases circulation to the region beneath the pad while also minimizing swelling. The negative pad acts like a heat source and boosts circulation, which helps speed up wound healing. The pads also stimulate the muscles and nerves.

What Is Galvanic Stimulation Used For?

Because of the device’s abilities, galvanic stimulation can go a long way in managing:

  • Pain associated with trauma or resulting from medical conditions
  • Swelling
  • Edema
  • Inflammation
  • Muscle tension
  • Nerve pain
Is Galvanic Stimulation Safe?

While galvanic stimulation can be performed at home with the assistance of a home unit, it should be used under the direction and guidance of your chiropractor to avoid injury and adverse side effects, such as tissue damage. Your chiropractor will advise you on how to use the device appropriately and will help you establish the proper setting / frequency that is right for you.

Auto accident injuries are one of the leading causes of spinal and whiplash injuries.

These types of injuries, whether they occur as the result of an auto accident or another type of trauma, must be treated properly, or they could lead to chronic pain. Fortunately, undergoing chiropractic treatments can help relieve the following symptoms, often without the use of pain medications or surgery:

  • Headaches
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Arm pain
  • Low back pain
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck, shoulders, arms or back

To learn more about the types of problems chiropractic care can treat or the types of treatments used in chiropractic care, please visit the pages below.

We Offer the Following Services

Doctors of Chiropractic – often referred to as chiropractors or chiropractic physicians – practice a drug-free, hands-on approach to health care that includes patient examination, diagnosis and treatment. Chiropractors have broad diagnostic skills and are also trained to recommend therapeutic and rehabilitative exercises, as well as to provide nutritional, dietary and lifestyle counseling.

Here is a brief overview of the array of specialized services offered by our clinic. Please take some time, and explore what we have to offer.

Chiropractic Manipulation San Antonio
Functional Integrative Medicine San Antonio
Acupuncture Services San Antonio
Massage Therapy San Antonio

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Meet Our Team
Dr. Lara Sweeney, DC
Dr. J. Lara Sweeney, DC IFMCP

Dr. Lara Sweeney has an impressive array of training, education, and certification. More ...

Dr. Jay Sweeney, DC
Dr. Jay Sweeney, DC DABCA

Dr. Jay Sweeney has an impressive array of training, education, and certification. More ...

Michelle Anderson
Michelle Anderson, LMT

Michelle has over 19 years massage & soft-tissue experience & is versed in a wide range of techniques More ...

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Amanda Hughes

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Castle Hills, TX 78213

Our building “The Pavilions at Castle Hills”, is located at the corner of NW Military Hwy. and Sunflower in Castle Hills. It’s a two-story brown brick building; “First Serve Tennis”, “Bicycle Heaven”, and “Hearing Aid Labs” occupy the front. Our office is located on the second floor, on the back side of the building. Plenty of parking is available in both the front and rear lots. There are stairways located at either end of the building; and for your convenience, there is an elevator located on the back side of the building, at the end of the south tunnel.