Does interferential electrotherapy work?
January 15, 2008 12:40 PM   Subscribe

What is, and how useful is, if at all, interferential electrotherapy?

I got put through a wall a bit ago in a scrape and I’ve been having some back problems. So I’ve been seeing (grudgingly) a chiropractor. And to be honest, after seeing Jacobs Ladder, always been a bit curious.
The realignment and all that with the hands is fine. I usually treat myself and others (stretching, exercise) for sports type injuries in much the same way.
But they gave me this ‘interferential electrotherapy’ - stuck some sticky pads to my back and gave me these electrical impulses - apparently to ease pain and reduce spasms and swelling. Pain doesn’t bother me, so I wouldn’t take drugs for it anyway, but I know how drugs work.
This seemed a little too much like voodoo to me.
Anyone have any experiance with this treatment and chiropractors in general?
posted by Smedleyman to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
Skepdic on chiropractic treatments.
posted by phrontist at 12:51 PM on January 15, 2008

Interferential electrical stimulation (often shortened to e-stim) is by no means the domain of only the chiropractor. It's a very common tool in physical therapy as well, using electrical pulses of varying strengths/frequencies to provide pain management, reduction of swelling and stimulation of muscle and soft tissue healing. This site has a good explanation of the many kinds of electrical stimulation that are commonly (and less commonly) used for all these purposes. Fascinating stuff.

So no, it's not voodoo. I used it all the time on patients when I worked at a PT clinic (as an aide, not a therapist) and the reactions were always either very positive or at worst neutral, with careful management of the settings for the given injury.

Chiropractors, on the other hand -- I think a lot of the principals behind the work they do (joint alignment, etc) are very valid and important, but I feel that long-term progress has to address the source of the misalignment (i.e. tight/weak/overstrong musculature, etc). Lots of folks at the PT clinic would use chiropractic and PT in combination to achieve the best results. Your mileage, vary, etc...

Good luck!
posted by Pantengliopoli at 12:59 PM on January 15, 2008

Glory... principles, naturally...
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:01 PM on January 15, 2008

I only have experience with it in a BDSM setting, not a medical setting. But I do know (normal) people who have used it for medical purposes to good results.
posted by desjardins at 1:31 PM on January 15, 2008

Ha, I just attached the sticky pads to my husband's back less than ten minutes ago. He swears by it and is not a hippy character at all. It was recommended to him by his physiotherapist (not chiropracter - we don't have a lot of experience with them) to deal with permanent back injuries sustained when playing football and/or while in the army. It's called a TENS over here: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
posted by b33j at 1:45 PM on January 15, 2008

Yup, have used e-stim in physical therapy for 5 surgeries. Definitely works and definitely isn't voodoo. Give it a shot, it may make you feel better
posted by CAnneDC at 2:07 PM on January 15, 2008

Best answer: I think back pain, even more than other pain, carries a message which can be roughly articulated as 'hey! don't do that until the stuff you stretched out and damaged can tighten up and heal up enough so that there is no longer much chance of damaging your precious spine,' and that you ignore that message or interfere with its delivery at peril of the kind of chronic problems backs are deservedly infamous for. I think back muscle spasms, when they are not directly attributable to pinched nerves, can serve to immobilize the damaged area (kind of like a cast) to prevent further damage and allow healing.

Just as with a cast, however, proper alignment of damaged parts is critical for sound healing, and I think chiropractic can play a role in achieving that alignment in the first place, so that your back doesn't heal crooked. Muscle spasms can prevent proper alignment, so using e-stim to defeat the spasm can be an essential part of getting that proper alignment.

But it seems to me that using it a lot in the early stages of healing could interfere with the beneficial effects of pain and muscle spasm, and result in a worse outcome in the long term.

If you were to develop chronic pain, that's another story altogether, and e-stim could become a lifesaver.

I also think you should visit the most capable conventional back specialist you can find, and insist on getting as complete a picture of what's happening there as you possibly can. You evidently count on your back to stand up to a great deal more force than the average person's ever experiences, and I think the best care would be more than worth any extra effort and expense to you it might involve.
posted by jamjam at 3:19 PM on January 15, 2008

Electro therapy or Galvanic stimulation (GS) works, my friend who wrote this article, keeps his paralyzed muscles from atrophy using pulsed DC .
posted by hortense at 7:23 PM on January 15, 2008

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