Bioelectric therapy is a drug-free, safe treatment option for people in pain. It is used to treat some chronic pain and acute pain conditions including:
- complex regional pain syndrome, also known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy or RSD
- back pain
- muscle pain
- headaches and migraines
- disorders of blood flow in the upper and lower limbs
- temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome (affects the jaw)
- disorders of the nervous system, such as diabetic neuropathy
- pain and ulcers of the skin resulting from poor circulation or scleroderma (a chronic condition that can cause thickening or hardening of the skin)
It is effective in providing temporary pain control, but it should only be a part of a total pain management program. When used along with conventional pain-relieving medications, bioelectric treatment may reduce the dose of some pain medications by up to 50%.
When the patient is injured, pain receptors send a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) which is registered as pain by certain cells in the body. Using bioelectric currents, bioelectric therapy relieves pain by interrupting pain signals before they reach the brain. Bioelectric therapy also prompts the body to produce endorphins which help to relieve pain.
If the patient is taking insulin or blood-thinning medications, their doctor must give him specific instructions to follow before getting bioelectric therapy.
During treatment, several small electrodes are applied to patient’s skin at prescribed areas to be treated. Sometimes rubber suction cups (called vaso-pneumatic devices) may be applied to the patient’s skin. In rare cases, skin irritation and redness can occur under the electrodes during bioelectric therapy.
The electrodes are hooked up to a computer that programs the precise treatment dosage required. High frequency alternating electrical currents (around 4,000 cycles per second) is then applied to the electrodes. The currents move through the skin quickly with little discomfort.
During treatment, the patient’s response to the electrical stimulation is measured. When electricity is applied, a mild vibrating, tingling sensation is common. This sensation should not be uncomfortable; patient should feel a relaxing, soothing pain relief.
As the currents are applied, the patient will provide verbal feedback to the clinician. If the sensation becomes too strong, the patient must tell the clinician right away so the treatment can be adjusted because the patient should be comfortable and enjoy the treatment, which lasts about 20 minutes.
After treatment in rare cases, skin irritation and redness can occur under the electrodes during bioelectric therapy.
The number of bioelectric therapy sessions required depends on each patient's condition and response to treatment. One bioelectric therapy session does not usually result in pain relief. Therapy usually begins with about five sessions in one week, followed by three treatments per week. A normal course of treatment includes 16 to 20 treatments.
Bioelectric therapy is not recommended for people who have a pacemaker, are pregnant, have thrombosis (blood clots in the arms or legs) and have a bacterial infection.