Back to health – when electrical pulses provide healing
Back to health – when electrical pulses provide healing
Strengthening and healing thanks to the power of electrical pulses - is that really possible? When mobility is restricted or muscles are no longer as strong as they used to be, electrical treatment options can lead to improvement or even cure of diseases. But why are more and more people turning to these alternatives, what are the advantages and what are their limitations and drawbacks?
In TENS electrical impulses are transmitted to the skin surface via electrodes and can contribute to pain relief in muscle tension.
Recent advances in conventional medicine are formidable – the system has stood the test of time, has been and continues to be researched and explored and was crowned by many successes, thus enabling people suffering from lifelong diseases to live a better and happier life and permitting some to restore their health. Yet alternatives that have not been researched as extensively as established procedures are increasingly attracting attention. While one-third of the population turned to alternative medicine in 1970, today nearly 60% give it a try. One of these alternatives is electrical therapy.
Electrical healing options versus conventional medicine
Many hospitals already offer and use electrical therapy methods, though they are not as widespread in healthcare as conventional medical solutions. What’s more, studies have not provided definitive answers yet. Nevertheless, these methods are used to treat people with chronic diseases like Parkinson's disease or essential tremors. Most notably, in the case of Parkinson's disease, the aim is to alleviate the symptoms of the disease, as well as reduce the concomitants conditions and side effects of conventional medical therapies. As a result, electrical therapy methods should only be used as pain-relieving and complementary procedures for serious illnesses and should not replace conventional treatments altogether.
Treatment with a chance of success or a need for more research?
Electrodes are used in a variety of electrical therapy methods.
Electrical therapy methods have both pros and cons. They have a positive effect when used as a complementary treatment to restore healthy body function. For example, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is used to improve and restore muscle function and relieve pain for a period of time. "TENS is a type of therapy with no major side effects and is therefore well-tolerated. In light of this, patients are willing to try this method," says Professor Berthold Langguth, Director of the Center for Neuromodulation at the University of Regensburg. Another advantage is that these types of treatment can be conveniently and easily performed at home since it only requires two electrode pads that are adhered to the skin. The corresponding electrical frequency and pulse width setting can be adjusted as needed and prescribed by the physician.
Having said that, some electrical therapy methods only offer chances of success for certain diseases. One of these methods is shockwave therapy (lithotripsy), used to treat kidney stones. Electromagnetic shockwaves are generated, which pass through the tissue until they encounter resistance or reach the kidney stones, respectively. Once there, the shockwaves release energy and break the painful kidney stones into small pieces. The tissue itself is not affected by this method.
Meanwhile, the same procedure has so far delivered inconclusive study findings in its use for orthopedic conditions such as tennis elbow or calcific tendonitis. On the one hand, the alternative technique is not used as often and temporary side effects have occurred in patients. On the other hand, the expected useful life of shockwave therapy is somewhat uncertain as well. This indicates the need for more research and studies of several electrical interventions. It also shows that these should only be used based on the specific disease and the patient’s condition and circumstances to boost the chances of success and recovery.
Another drawback is the fact that due to insufficient studies, it is inconclusive whether electrical healing approaches are comparable or more effective than time-tested therapies. What’s more, the effects of the therapy may not be noticeable until a few weeks after in the case of some diseases.
That being said, many people still resort to electrical healing procedures, most notably when medication has proven ineffective or the patient doesn’t want to undergo surgery. Shockwave therapy, for example, has been an effective treatment for stress injuries like heel spur syndrome or calcific tendonitis.
Electrical healing methods are able to effectively reduce movement problems in the case of debilitating neurological and mental disorders and thus improve the patient’s quality of life. For example, the University Medical Center Freiburg uses brain stimulation as a treatment option for patients suffering from Parkinson's disease or epilepsy. There are different versions of this procedure during which magnetic fields and electric current change the activities in certain brain regions without putting patients at risk. "Currently, there is a search for ways to improve the efficiency of stimulation procedures to make stimulation as successful as pharmacological therapies when used as a first-line treatment," explains Professor Michael Nitsche, Director of the Department of Psychology and Neurosciences, Leibniz Research Center for Working Environment and Human Factors at Technical University of Dortmund.
Looking into the future of electrical healing
Some electrical therapy procedures can also be performed comfortably at home.
So far, electrical treatment options are not in widespread medical use. Some of these methods still have a long way to go as it pertains to research studies before they will find their place alongside time-tested conventional medical treatments. To that effect, doctors will be offered more training options in the foreseeable future. The objective is for electrical therapy methods to effectively complement conventional medical treatments.
The article was written by Diana Heiduk and translated from German by Elena O'Meara. MEDICA-tradefair.com