Electrotherapy and Physio

Electrotherapy is a broad term encompassing any technique in which electricity is used for medicinal purposes. Physiotherapists have been using electrotherapy as one of many treatment tools with which these healthcare professionals can provide a comprehensive and personalised rehabilitation plan.

How does electrotherapy work?

As with all physio treatments, electrotherapy is used with other protocols to achieve the best results. These include for example resistance exercises, massage, and hot and cold therapies. Electrotherapy can be delivered in one of many ways depending on the patient involved and what the therapist deems appropriate based on their assessment.

Most commonly electrotherapy works by using electricity to deliver pain relief by means of electrical techniques, examples of different forms of electrotherapy include:

  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – Applies a current by means of electrodes through your skin to stimulate the nerves beneath and hence trigger the release of your body’s natural pain relieving mechanisms.
  • Ultrasound – While not technically an electrotherapeutic technique, ultrasound is considered in this category. The technique utilises high frequency sound waves to deliver energy to cells and improve tissue regeneration by basically up-regulating their function.
  • Pulsed Shortwave Therapy – Uses an electrical and magnetic field to stimulate the repair of ionic tissue like muscles by restoring normal membrane potentials and hence improving the flow of essential nutrients and ions in and out of the cell.
  • Laser Therapy – A focussed beam of high energy light is passed into the target issue to stimulate tissue repair and reduce inflammation, while also acting to recruit immune cells and hence enhance the body’s natural immune response.
  • Interferential Therapy (IFT) – Is not unlike TENS in that it involves applying a current to achieve its ends. IFT however is used to penetrate more deeply, relieving pain and also stimulating muscular repair.

The use of these electrotherapies in physiotherapy

Electrotherapy is another tool at your physio’s disposal, and one they will use at their discretion based on their assessment and your progress. Different forms of electrotherapy are suitable for different conditions. Ultrasound therapy for example is more suited to the treatment of damage to collagen dense structures like tendons and ligaments. Pulsed Shortwave on the other hand is designed to be more effective for treating ionic tissues like muscles. Your physiotherapist will often suggest the use of an electrotherapy in conjunction with other aspects of your rehabilitation.

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