As all DCs know, the foundation of chiropractic care is the adjustment to the joint and surrounding muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
Such an adjustment will open up the joint to relieve pressure on any impinged nerves. By releasing this pressure on the nerves, pain and stiffness in the affected joint can be relieved.
While the chiropractic adjustment will always be the mainstay of chiropractic care, advances in medical technology have allowed DCs to add a wide array of services above and beyond just the adjustment—and electrotherapy is perhaps the best known of these high-tech advances.
What is electrotherapy?
There are accounts of electrical stimulation therapy dating as far back as the late 18th century, and it is most commonly recognized as a treatment for various neurological disorders. Although the exact mechanism behind electrotherapy in treating joint pain is not fully understood, the basics are that when electrical stimulation is applied to specifically targeted areas of the body, the pain signals going along the nerves are blocked.1 Electrotherapy is also thought to release endorphins, which are the body’s own natural painkillers.
What does the research say?
A 2004 case report published in the Journal of Manipulative Physiological Therapeutics discusses the use of electrotherapy as part of multimodal treatment, including electrotherapy, soft tissue therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and exercises for a patient with rotator cuff impingement. When the patient was seen on follow up at four and 12 weeks after the end of the initial therapy treatment, no symptoms were reported, which was confirmed by clinical examination.2
Another report from the same journal discusses the use of electrotherapy as part of successful treatment for two cases of Bell’s palsy, which affects the facial muscles. The authors noted that their treatment results may represent a baseline to judge the effectiveness of chiropractic and electrotherapy for treating future cases of Bell’s palsy.3
There are three main types of electrotherapy devices. Each one works at different wavelengths and frequencies and is used for different effects.1
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): TENS units are the ones most commonly used for electrotherapy. They usually use a low frequency (less than 10 Hz) to help with long-term relief from back pain, although some models can be set higher (60 Hz to 200 Hz). These units are quite small, so patients can administer their own treatments at home.
- Interferential current (IFC): An IFC unit uses the same signal as a TENS unit, but at a higher frequency (4000 Hz). This allows it to penetrate further under the skin than with a TENS unit.
- Galvanic stimulation (GS): In contrast to TENS or IFC units, a GS unit is used for acute injuries involving major tissue damage, swelling, and bleeding. This device applies a direct current, rather than the alternating current that TENS and IFC units provide.
The practical upshot of adding electrotherapy into your range of services is that it allows you to not only treat a wider range of patients for a variety of conditions, but it will also give the impression that your office is high-tech, working with the latest technology to help benefit patients.
1 Revord J. “Electrotherapy.” Spine-health. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/pain-management/electrotherapy. Published November 1999. Accessed April 2015.
2 Pollard H, Pribicevic M. Rotator cuff impingement. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2004;27(9):580–590.
3 Frach JP, Fuhr AW, Osterbauer PJ. Treatment of Bell’s palsy by mechanical force, manually assisted chiropractic adjusting and high-voltage electrotherapy. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1992;15(9):596–598.