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What Is an Electrotherapy Unit?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated May 17, 2024
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Electrotherapy is used as a medical treatment to aid in a variety of disorders such as neurological disease, chronic pain, damaged tissue and compromised joint mobility. It is also used in the alternative medicine field. An electrotherapy unit is a portable or clinical device typically used to apply electrical current to muscles and nerves as a means of pain relief and healing. Portable units tend to be found in the home and clinical units are generally found in medical offices. Electrotherapy is non-invasive and there are no side effects associated with the treatment.

There are a number of types of electrotherapy units that are commercially available. Covering a range of treatments, the portable units are usually small, handheld battery-powered devices, whereas the clinical units tend to be larger and use alternating current (AC) electricity. The larger units sometimes employ ultrasound to stimulate the muscles and nerves. Portable units come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be purchased with accessories such as lead wires and electrodes as well as a hard carry case. All the units work to alleviate pain by sending electrical impulses through to the nerves.

Some of the conditions that an electrotherapy unit seeks to aid include spinal cord stimulation, reduction of swelling and inflammation, and even to introduce pain killing drugs through electrical current. The portable electrotherapy unit generally is used to manage pain and not to actually heal. They work by targeting and stimulating the nerves to block pain signals to the brain. They can also stimulate endorphins which is one of the body’s natural defenses against pain. Arthritis, chronic back pain, sciatica and slipped discs are all disorders that the electrotherapy unit may help.

Other treatments include pulsed short wave diathermy. This involves exposing areas of the body to high-frequency pulsed electromagnetic radiation and is employed to reduce inflammation and hematomas. Hematoma occurs when blood pools outside of the blood vessel. Interferential current therapy is used to reduce swelling and inflammation. It has also been known to help with asthma and osteoarthritis.

The electrotherapy unit works to reduce pain and inflammation by spinal cord stimulation as well. Instead of stimulating and affecting nerves near the actual area of pain, this method directly stimulates the spinal cord in an attempt to decrease pain in the central nervous system. There are risks associated with this procedure, so it should be coordinated with a medical doctor.

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