These three electrotherapy tools are becoming more common for various treatments.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS)
TENS machines, or electrical nerve stimulators, are fairly common and have models for use in a practice or at home. They are relatively inexpensive and have an analgesic effect, reducing pain.1
A 2011 study, published by The Journal of Pain, indicated that low-frequency TENS, which are sometimes described as “acupuncture-like” and are usually tolerable for a much shorter time than high-frequency stimulation, may be more effective in relieving pain than traditional methods.2 The researchers stated:
“This study shows a dose response for the intensity of TENS for pain relief with the strongest intensities showing the greatest effect; thus, we suggest that TENS intensity should be titrated to achieve the strongest possible intensity to achieve maximum pain relief.” 2
Interferential Current (IFC)
Interferential current, also known as interferential therapy (IFT), is closely related to TENS. However, IFC alternates between two frequencies and allows for the stimulation to reach deep tissue with less discomfort than with a single low frequency from a TENS unit.3
Galvanic Stimulation (GS)
Galvanic stimulation differs from TENS and IFC in that it applies a direct electrical current to the area being treated.4 While it is most frequently used in the case of acute injuries and major tissue damage, this therapy is being studied in other contexts.
1 Revord J. “Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS).” Spine-health.com. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/pain-management/transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulators-tens. Published November 1999. Accessed April 2015.
2 Moran F, et al. Hypoalgesia in Response to Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Depends on Stimulation Intensity. The Journal of Pain. 2011;12(8):929–935.
3 Revord J. “Interferential Current (IFC).” Spine-health.com. http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/pain-management/interferential-current-ifc. Published November 1999. Accessed April 2015.