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Electrotherapy Pain Relief: Here’s How (and Why) It Works

Electrotherapy for Pain Relief: How (and Why) It Works

Electrotherapy is a new, noninvasive, drug-free means to combat pain. Learn more about why more doctors and patients are turning to electrotherapy pain relief.

Do you suffer from chronic pain related to injury or physical activity? Electrotherapy pain relief is an affordable treatment that can help.

Electrotherapy has been around for hundreds of years. Although it has been considered a form of alternative medicine for much of that time, research and tests now show that electrotherapy is, in fact, a viable way to reduce pain.

What makes electrotherapy pain relief a convenient treatment choice is how accessible it is. You can purchase personal electrotherapy devices for home use at nominal prices. Or you can undergo treatment with high-grade electrotherapy machines at a physiotherapy clinic.

Using electrotherapy in conjunction with other pain management techniques can lead to long-term relief that makes your life much more enjoyable.

What is Electrotherapy Pain Relief Like?

Electrotherapy is a pretty simple procedure.

The electrotherapy device is small enough that you can hold it in a single hand. It looks like a remote control with a few buttons and a small screen for adjusting settings.

Several adhesive pads with wires protrude out of the electrotherapy device. You stick these pads to the area of your body that’s experiencing pain.

When you’re ready, all you have to do is select your preferred setting and press the start button. The device begins sending pain-relieving electrical impulses to your body.

The devices for home use work well and give you the flexibility of choosing your treatment schedule.

Little effort is involved. You can watch tv or do any other non-physical leisure activity while you have the adhesive pads connected.

The devices used by physiotherapists are the same except a bit bigger and with more pads. Often, electrotherapy in these settings is used before other techniques (like massage).

If you do electrotherapy at home, perform some light stretching afterward for best effect. Following up treatment with a bath in Epsom salt provides additional pain relief.

Why Does Electrotherapy Pain Relief Work?

The concept behind electrotherapy–shocking your joints and muscles to eliminate pain–can seem strange. That’s part of the reason it took time for this immensely beneficial treatment to catch on.

But the science underlying electrotherapy is very sound.

When you experience something like knee pain or back pain, it’s because the damaged nerve sends an electrical signal to your brain that is interpreted as pain.

What the electrotherapy device does, is send its own signals that block the pain signals. Thus, your pain is eliminated or reduced.

Different Types of Electrotherapy Devices

Choose the electrotherapy option that best fits your physical needs, budget, and situation. Your health care provider can help you determine which of these electrotherapy devices is best for you.


Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators, also known as TENS, are the most popular electrotherapy devices.

TENS units are available for home use. Although TENS are small, hand-held devices, they are very powerful.

An extremely important feature of TENS units is the ability to change the frequency of the stimulation.

Using high frequency produces a tolerable sensation. But the pain relief is more short-term. Using the low-frequency function gives you longer-lasting pain relief but with a sensation that is only tolerable for about a half-hour.


Interferential Current, or IFC, are units that go beyond the capacity of TENS. It’s not surprising that an IFC unit will set you back around $2,000!

IFC uses the electrical signal produced by TENS but at a modulated high-frequency waveform.

The result is that the electrical impulse goes deeper under your skin, allowing for more comprehensive pain management.


Galvanic Stimulation, or GS, works differently from TENS and IFC.

Whereas the former are best suited for more moderate pain reduction for things like pulled muscles or scar tissue buildup, GS is aimed at alleviating serious pain resulting from serious injuries with lots of swelling and bleeding.

Whereas TENS and IFC use alternating current, GS used direct current.

The use of direct current over the injured area makes an electrical field that reverses your blood flow.

GS units use positive and negative adhesive pads. The positively reduced circulation in the area it covers in order to bring down swelling. The negative pad increases circulation to speed up healing.

You may not need a GS unit at home for day-to-day use. Clinics specializing in eliminating pain may have them on-hand. If you experience a severe injury, ask your doctor about GS treatment.

What Conditions Can be Treated with Electrotherapy?

Electrotherapy has a wide range of use that encompasses many issues.

Obviously, back pain and knee pain are among the top ailments it’s used for. Electrotherapy improves your range of joint movement and restores painless mobility.

Electrotherapy is also great for many neuromuscular dysfunctions. It helps improve your strength and motor control while keeping muscle atrophy at bay.

Electrotherapy can be effectively used to treat damaged tissue. It heals wounds by enhancing microcirculation and protein synthesis.

Injured tissues need good blood flow to heal properly. Electrotherapy stimulates circulation so that blood gets to the affected areas.

Are There Any Side Effects to Electrotherapy?

The great part about electrotherapy is that it’s a safe and proven treatment method with few risks. The risks that do exist are mild.

Some people get allergic skin irritation from the adhesive pads. The electrical charge may cause slight pain at lower frequencies.

For safety, it’s important to keep the pads off of certain areas. Placing them over your heart could cause cardiac arrhythmia. Putting them on your throat can provoke low blood pressure.

Pregnant women should exercise caution in using electrotherapy. Putting the pads over the uterus can harm the unborn baby.

For these reasons, you should consult with a certified health care provider prior to using electrotherapy.


Electrotherapy is a trusted solution to reduce pain. It can serve as a useful complement to methods like chiropractic and physiotherapy.

There are different types of electrotherapy devices, some more expensive than others. While home-use devices are readily available, your condition may call for deeper treatment.

For best results, follow all safety procedures and keep the pads away from risk areas. Always adhere to the guidance of a licensed health care practitioner.

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Roger Safont

Roger Safont - Technology Evangelist, Internet & Digital Marketer, Healthcare Technology Leader

Roger SafontElectrotherapy Pain Relief: Here’s How (and Why) It Works