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12-month warranty

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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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Electrical Stimulation: An Overview

iTENS small wing kit with written features

Electrical stimulation is a method that can alleviate pain in various areas of the body. It can treat musculoskeletal pain, neuropathic pain, and visceral pain. This therapy works by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain, which helps to reduce discomfort. Additionally, it can trigger the release of endorphins, which are natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. This technique also helps boost blood circulation, further aiding the process of pain relief.

The use of electric stimulation has historical roots in ancient times. People discovered that applying electric fish to painful areas could alleviate discomfort. Over the years, this concept evolved, and in the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin even documented the use of electric stimulation for pain management. As time progressed, technological advancements led to the development of more advanced devices. This article provides an overview of electric stimulation, including its application and mechanism of action.

What is Electrical Stimulation?

Electrical stimulation, or e-stim, is a therapeutic technique that uses electrical current to treat various health conditions, including pain relief. It involves the application of electrical impulses to the nerves or muscles in the body. Thus, this electrical current helps stimulate the nerves and muscles, producing various beneficial effects.

One of the primary purposes of e-stim is to interrupt pain signals in the body. Applying electrical current to the sensory nerves can block the transmission of pain messages to the brain, relieving discomfort. This method is commonly used in pain clinics. It is effective in treating chronic or acute pain conditions.

Furthermore, e-stim has been proven to improve muscle strength and muscle function in physical therapy. It works by sending electric impulses to the motor nerves. In turn, this can stimulate muscle contraction. As a result, e-stim can have positive effects on conditions such as muscle weakness and impaired physical function. Nevertheless, it is crucial to consult a health professional before starting electrotherapy to avoid possible adverse effects.

Types of E-Stim Devices

  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – the approach is widely used as a method of pain relief. This works by transmitting low-intensity electric current through surface electrode patches.
  • Neuromuscular Electric Stimulation (NMES) – focuses on stimulating the muscles. It delivers controlled electrical pulses to specific muscles or muscle groups, causing muscular contraction and relaxation.
  • Functional Electric Stimulation (FES) – stimulates nerves and muscles to restore or enhance motor function in individuals with muscle paralysis or weakness.
  • Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) – helps strengthen and tone the muscles. By repeatedly contracting and relaxing the muscles, EMS can increase muscle mass and endurance.

A muscular man holding his nape and lower back

Application of Electrical Stimulation in Pain Management

Electrical stimulation therapy is a widely used technique in pain management. In cases of musculoskeletal pain, such as back or joint pain, e-stim can be applied to target specific muscles or nerve pathways. It helps modulate pain signals, reduce muscle spasms, and promote healing by enhancing blood flow. Hence, it can effectively alleviate discomfort and improve functional outcomes for individuals with musculoskeletal pain.

In addition, using e-stim can alleviate neuropathic pain conditions. Conditions such as diabetic neuropathy or sciatic nerve pain often bring about abnormal signalling in the nerves. Electrical nerve stimulation interrupts these irregular signals, offering relief through the modulation of pain processing in the central nervous system.

Moreover, visceral pain can be alleviated through e-stim. This type of pain refers to discomfort originating from internal organs. Electric stimulation reduces the perception of pain, offering relief for patients dealing with debilitating conditions. Healthcare providers apply electric stimulation externally or, in some cases, use implanted devices for long-term pain management.

Benefits

Electrotherapy relieves various chronic and acute pain conditions. It is a non-surgical option that effectively manages pain. It also reduces the need for medicines. Users can adjust the stimulation intensity and frequency to their comfort and specific needs. This customisation enhances the experience and allows individuals to control their pain in a personalised manner.

In addition, most e-stim machines are portable. Hence, it further adds to their appeal. They allow users to incorporate electrotherapy into various settings conveniently for on-the-go relief. Whether at home, work, or during travel, individuals can easily access the benefits of electric stimulation.

An elderly woman wearing iTENS on her arm while reading

How Electrical Stimulation Alleviate Pain

An electrical stimulation device serves as an effective method for alleviating pain through the Gate Control Theory. This theory posits that pain signals are regulated by a “gate” in the spinal cord. Then, this can be modulated by non-painful stimuli. When electrical pulses are applied to the skin surface through active electrodes, they activate sensory nerves and stimulate non-painful sensations.

Another mechanism is by triggering the release of endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body. This natural pain relief mechanism can be particularly beneficial for individuals seeking non-pharmacological approaches to manage pain in their daily lives. Healthcare providers may recommend e-stim as part of a comprehensive pain management plan to enhance overall quality of life.

Furthermore, electric stimulation plays a role in boosting blood circulation. The pulse duration, intensity, and frequency of electrical pulses influence the dilation of blood vessels, promoting increased blood flow. Improved circulation facilitates the delivery of oxygen and nutrients while aiding in the removal of waste products.

Frequencies and Intensities

Frequency refers to the number of pulses or cycles of electrical current per second. Typically, frequencies in e-stim range from 1 to 150 Hz. Lower frequencies, such as 1-5 Hz, are suitable for chronic pain conditions. Meanwhile, higher frequencies, such as 80-150 Hz, are for acute pain management.

Intensity is the strength or power of the electric currents, measured in milliamps (mA). It influences how deeply the electrical signals penetrate the body. Generally, electrotherapy starts with a low intensity to avoid skin irritation. Finding the right intensity is essential for maximising the benefits of the therapy and improving daily living.

Conclusion

In conclusion, electrical stimulation is a valuable therapeutic approach for managing various types of pain. By applying electrical impulses to nerves and muscles, e-stim effectively reduces musculoskeletal discomfort. Additionally, it interrupts abnormal nerve signals in neuropathic conditions, providing relief. Furthermore, this approach proves effective in alleviating visceral pain originating from internal organs. Whether through TENS, NMES, FES, or EMS devices, e-stim proves versatile in enhancing functional outcomes.

E-stim works through the Gate Control Theory of Pain, modulating spinal cord signals. It also triggers natural endorphin release, serving as a pain reliever for the body. In addition, it enhances blood circulation, aiding nutrient delivery and waste removal. Frequencies ranging from 1-5 Hz for chronic pain and 80-150 Hz for acute pain, along with adjusting intensity in milliamps, optimise therapeutic benefits. This non-pharmacological approach empowers patients in pain management, improving their daily lives and well-being.

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