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The Role of Electrotherapeutics in Controlling Pain


Pain. It is defined as the physical suffering or discomfort caused by illness or injury. If you are human, you’re likely no stranger to pain and most of us will experience it multiple times throughout the course of our lives. But for those people who live in chronic pain (pain that is constant and has lasted longer than 12 weeks), these episodes of suffering can be an extremely debilitating prison – robbing them of the ability to live the life they want.

Inflammation frequently plays a large role in the continuation of pain. As the baby boomer generation ages, we neurologists and other pain specialists are seeing more patients with inflammatory conditions (arthritis, for instance) that affect older populations and as such, more patients who are suffering the chronically painful effects. The typical course of treatment for the pain associated with these conditions is often confined to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and Naprosyn), steroids and other medications that can have severe side effects and risks, especially with prolonged use. But new treatments have emerged that can help control pain without the risks and side effects often associated with other treatment courses.

One powerful tool that has been used in medicine for thousands of years is electricity. While medications to control pain often work to block the pain response in the inflammation cycle, electrical signal therapy (EST) works differently. Some of the most promising ways this concept is at work today:

Neuromodulation and Pain Control

Neuromodulation treatments are those that target the nervous system or brain at specific locations in the body and are part of a growing variety of methods that treat a number of conditions including CRPS, Migraine, Neuropathic Pain and many others. This class of treatments delivers electrical stimulation in an effort to relieve pain and restore function.

Radiofrequency – During this safe and effective procedure, an electrical current is produced by a radio wave, which heats an affected area of nerve tissue. This is designed to minimize the pain signals from that specific area. There are a number of conditions that this type of therapy can be successfully used to treat including spine pain from arthritis and more. The degree of pain relief can be different for each individual but for the appropriate diagnosis, the majority of patients treated with a radiofrequency procedure experience relief.

Pulsed Radiofrequency (PRF) – A variation of continuous radiofrequency treatment for pain, this procedure can offer the added benefits of pain control without the destruction of surrounding tissue in the treatment area. The benefits of this are especially noted in more complicated cases of neuropathic pain. In contrast to traditional radiofrequency, PRF is delivered in short “bursts” to help reduce risk of tissue damage and to confine the effect to the specific nerve being treated.

Electrostimulation with Nerve Blocks – Traditional nerve blocks are procedures designed to interrupt nerve pulses (which send pain signals to the brain) by injecting nerves with a local anesthetic agent. Emerging studies are showing that a brief series of combined electrostimulation and nerve blocks can significantly improve pain associated with nerve damage, outperforming the benefits of medications commonly used for these kinds of problems.

History and clinical studies have consistently demonstrated the merits of EST over traditional medication therapy in many cases. But for the most lasting effects, combinations of EST and local anesthesia as well as expert delivery of these treatments must be employed and further explored. If you or someone you know is experiencing the debilitating effects of chronic pain that isn’t being well-managed, please don’t just suffer through it. Contact us today.