Bioelectric therapy is a safe, drug-free treatment option for people in pain. It is used to treat some chronic pain and acute pain conditions. It relieves pain by blocking pain messages to the brain. When you are injured, pain receptors send a message to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). The message 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.
What Conditions Are Treated With Bioelectric Therapy?
Bioelectric therapy can be used to treat chronic 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 (which 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)
Bioelectric therapy isn't right for everyone. It is not recommended for people who:
- Have a pacemaker
- Are pregnant
- Have thrombosis (blood clots in the arms or legs)
- Have a bacterial infection
How Effective Is Bioelectric Therapy?
Bioelectric therapy 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%.
What Happens During Bioelectric Therapy?
During bioelectric therapy, several small, flat rubber adhesive discs (called electrodes) are applied to your skin at prescribed areas to be treated. Sometimes rubber suction cups (called vaso pneumatic devices) may be applied to your skin. The electrodes are hooked up to a computer that programs the precise treatment dosage required. High frequency alternating electrical currents are then applied to the electrodes. The currents move through the skin quickly with little discomfort. During treatment, your response to the electrical stimulation is measured.
When electricity is applied, a mild vibrating, tingling sensation is common. This sensation should not be uncomfortable; you should feel a relaxing, soothing pain relief. As the currents are applied, you will provide verbal feedback to the clinician. If the sensation becomes too strong, please tell the clinician right away so the treatment can be adjusted. You should be comfortable and enjoy the treatment, which lasts about 20 minutes.
What Are the Side Effects of Bioelectric Therapy?
In rare cases, skin irritation and redness can occur under the electrodes during bioelectric therapy.
How Often Should I Get Bioelectric Therapy?
The number of bioelectric therapy sessions required depends on each person'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.
How Do I Prepare for Bioelectric Therapy?
If you are taking insulin or blood-thinning medications, your doctor may give you specific instructions to follow before getting bioelectric therapy.
You may be asked to fast before the procedure, and you may need to make arrangements for someone to drive you home after treatment.