We’ve all seen it, either in school or in practice. Electrotherapy units have been used to help manage pain for patients with chronic pain, post-surgically, or for acute injury. I recently sat down with the folks at BakerNation to discuss some of the evidence around electrotherapy. The whole article is available here.

We discuss the gate theory and how TENS can temporarily “block” the conduction of pain signals to the brain, precautions around the use of electrotherapy. and accommodation or build up of tolerance to the effects of electrotherapy. We also discussed the importance of not simply relying on a TENS unit for pain management, but to incorporate electrotherapy as part of a complete physiotherapy treatment plan aimed at addressing underlying causes of pain.

Here is an excerpt:

Is There a Preferred Therapy for Back Pain Patients?

According to Salazar, “for patients experiencing back pain, TENS would likely be the ideal form of electrotherapy. For therapy treatment in general, then TENS would be an adjunct to treatment provided by a competent physiotherapist.”

Electrotherapy Side Effects

There are precautions and considerations to be aware of when using electrotherapy, both involving overuse.

“As far as side effects go, if applied for extended durations, the skin may burn (this is typically from using the wrong electrode pads or wearing the unit for several hours in a row with no break time),” Salazar said.

“There is also some research showing that there is an adaptive response of the nervous system to TENS. This is known as accommodation, but it basically means this: if you use it several times a day, every day, then your body will build a “’tolerance’ for it and the effect will be diminished.”

Check out the whole article here.

Do you use electrotherapy to help patients with pain management? Share any additional resources that you found helpful in the comments below!

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Rafael E. Salazar II, MHS, OTR/L is the president and CEO of Rehab U Practice Solutions. He has experience in a variety of rehab settings, working with patients recovering from a variety of injuries and surgeries. He worked as the lead clinician in an outpatient specialty clinic at his local VA Medical center. He also has experience as an adjunct faculty instructor at Augusta University’s Occupational Therapy Program, as a Licensed Board Member on the GA State OT Board, has served on several committees for the national OT Board (NBCOT), and as a consultant for the State of Georgia. He is also on the Board of Directors for NBCOT.

Read his full bio Here. Read about Rehab U Here.


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