What is electrotherapy?
Electrotherapy involves the use of surface electrodes to apply an electrical current for the controlled stimulation of neuromuscular tissue. It has been proven effective to improve overall muscle condition, as well as muscle action and performance. This modality has a wide range of functions depending on the type of electrical stimulation used.
Where applied, electrotherapy causes neuronal excitation and changes cell membrane permeability. Its overall effect is the generation of localised muscle-pumping action, improving joint mobility, muscle strength and circulatory and lymphatic drainage. Generally, it is employed at high frequencies and shorter durations for nerve tissue activation, in comparison to lower frequencies and longer durations for muscle tissue activation.
When our therapists use this modality, we keep in mind that an electric current — however low — is being administered. Electrotherapy is first started on low intensities and gradually ramped up as we observe your pet’s body language to make sure they are not overly stressed or in discomfort. We ensure that the electrodes are kept in the same position on the body so that no current is applied outside of the target area.
Undergoing electrotherapy on the triceps muscle
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This modality is mainly used for pain management and muscular relaxation, causing a faint tingling sensation where applied. Depending on the setting used, it can be administered in a continuous or alternate manner, or modulated to simulate muscle contraction that feels similar to the sensation of massage.
It focuses on activating sensory neurons to cause an overload of interneurons, creating an analgesic (pain-reduction) effect by inhibiting the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It is normally applied directly to the target site, but the use of TENS in one location has been proven to reduce hypersensitivity to pain bilaterally. This releases muscles that have been tensed up — voluntarily or involuntarily — because of pain. While this pain inhibition is generally temporary, the muscular relaxation that results from an application of TENS also relieves painful trigger points.
Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES)
NMES is applied to superficial skeletal muscles to stimulate motor neurons by generating controlled muscular contraction. Patients thus feel a pulsing sensation in the muscles proportional to the intensity used. Its primary functions include:
Enhanced local blood circulation
Reversal of atrophy
Relief of swelling and stiffness
Its ability to generate deep tissue stimulation makes this modality particularly useful for those that find it difficult to perform voluntary movement, such as in patients with spinal damage or degeneration. Additionally, the strong muscle contractions produced have been proven to reduce edema (swelling) by improving circulation in the area.