The first use of electricity for pain relief can be traced back to ancient Rome. Scribonius Largus, a Greek physician practicing in Rome, explained how he and other Roman doctors would fish the Mediterranean for torpedo fish. When in danger, these fish have the capability of delivering a 220-volt shock via their own internal organs. The fish were said to be placed into buckets of water and gout patients would place their feet into the same bucket to receive the electrical shock to ease their foot pain. Scribonius’ most famous treatment, however, was placing the same torpedo fish on the face of headache patients until their senses went numb. Today, the medical term “torpor” comes from this famous treatment – the definition is “a state of physical or mental inactivity.”

The combination of acupuncture and electrical stimulation that we use in the clinic today all stems from innovations back in the 1930’s. Electrical stimulation was seen as an alternative mechanism to repeat hand stimulation of the needles. This technique gained recognition as a pain-suppressing treatment in the 1950’s where after WWII, many nations (Japan, Korea, China, West Germany, China, and the Soviet Union) all started to study the effect of electrical impulses on the body at various points. There has been countless research performed over the years with electrical stimulation, but the main advantages to using this therapy are: providing hands-free stimulation, it increases stimulus and the length of time of stimulus, it is easier to regulate the stimulus, it can relax muscles, and it is important for anesthesia.

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We have various electrical stimulation devices that we use in the clinic, and most commonly use them for pain, tight muscles, and neuropathy. The device we use the most is a Pantheon “e-stim” machine that allows us to hook up a total of four possible lead sets on various acupuncture needles. The electrical current is set to a specific frequency that best suits the patient’s needs (e.g. acute pain, chronic pain, neuropathy, etc…) and the device strength is turned up slowly until an optimal strength is reported by the patient. The sensation is relatively mild – it can feel like a light buzzing sensation and/or sometimes it can cause certain muscles to twitch to the frequency of the e-stim machine. Most patients describe the sensation as a little “funny” or “odd” (mainly when it causes the involuntary muscle twitching), but it is not described as painful. The length of time spent in an area with electrical stimulation is usually pretty short – maxing out at around 12 minutes for most patients.

The effects of electrical stimulation are usually felt immediately by our patients. Even while the electrical stimulation is being performed, patients will report that it feels like the e-stim strength goes down over the course of the 12 minutes. This is due in part to natural pain killers/endorphins that are being released by the body in response to the e-stim. By the time that patients are off the treatment table and walking out the reception desk, they can feel the difference as they are able to move their body around a little more.

Our most popular treatments with e-stim are for frozen shoulder, trigger finger release, general shoulder pain, lower back pain, and sciatica pain. We primarily treat with e-stim through the EXSTORE System, an acupuncture method of physical evaluation and treatment that focuses on fast and effective results with all pain and musculoskeletal pain. EXSTORE treatments include stimulating motor points, trigger points, and specific nerve pathways that create profound shifts in our patients.

The image below shows the four main electrical stimulation devices that we use on the body during our treatments. From left to right, these are the names of these devices and what we use them for:

  • Pointer Plus – This glorified looking pen is often used to stimulate a trigger point of a muscle. Instead of performing a painful “dry needling” style of acupuncture, this pen allows us to quickly stimulate the trigger point with very little discomfort (if any). We can also use this device to test the point location of our acupuncture needles before we hook patients up to larger devices like the E-Stim II or Patheon e-stim machines.
  • E-Stim II – This electrical stimulation device is the most basic one that we use in our office. It has two sets of leads that we can use to stimulate a couple areas of the body at the same time. Equipped to handle both micro current (a square wave stimulation that we use to help “tonify” the body) and milli current (modified square wave in the positive, and a spike wave in the negative, which we use primarily for pain and tight muscles in our clinic).
  • DiaDENS PCM – This device has the appearance of an electric shaver and is specifically great for things like jaw tightness, TMJ, neuropathy, and/or painful areas that do not respond to a typical e-stim machine. The Diadens device uses neural-like electrical impulses to help bring pain relief, a decrease in inflammatory reactions, and improvement of local blood flow. This handheld device is easy to navigate around small and sensitive areas (like the jaw and feet) and also acts as a biofeedback device that gives patients quantitative measurements to show the effectiveness of the device before and after treatment. Unlike the other e-stim devices, this device is applied directly to the skin and does not interact with acupuncture needles.
  • Pantheon Research – These American manufactured e-stim devices are the best around. They are 8 channel percutaneous (beneath the skin) stimulators that allow use to treat multiple areas of the body at the same time. They use exclusive electrical waveforms that are widely considered the best out there for maximum physiological response of a beneficial nature, the symmetrical biphasic waveform. In short, this is the most accurate and calibrated e-stim machine that deliver the best results.