What is E-Stim?

Patients often wonder what the modalities that we use are doing to their body.  While we are training a new assistant in our office I thought I would take the time to write this down for their benefit and answer some questions that I get from patients here on the blog.

IFC, TENS, Electrical Stimulation

Usually referred to as “electric stim” it goes by many other names and there are different types and reasons for using this modality.  (Feel free to add uses to the comments)  The primary use of this tool in our office is for muscle relaxation and pain relief.

To start four conducting pads are placed around the treatment area.  The intensity is then increased slowly allowing the current to flow through you to the opposite pads.  This causes kind of a numb or tingly feeling in the area.  IFCThe treatment improves healing in the area, causes the muscles to relax, releases chemical pain relievers and temporarily confuses the nervous system so that it is not able to transmit pain signals as well.  In essence you get temporary pain relief and improved healing.  While some people like to show how tough they are, more is not always better.  We will usually try to find a setting that is comfortable, even pleasant, for you.

If done before, it allows the adjustment to be more comfortable for the patient.  Because the muscles are relaxed it can make it easier for the chiropractor to do the actual adjustment and decrease the risk of muscle strain.  It also has been shown to improve recovery times.

There are possible negative effects from this treatment.  They are rare and minimal.  Some people may be allergic to the adhesive in the pads and the skin may become irritated or develop a rash.  If a pad comes loose during a treatment (most machines are designed to shut off if this happens) the electricity may arc and give you a little jolt, kind of like licking a 9-volt battery or even a minor electrical burn.

E-stim should never be used with an electrical implant such as a pace maker, over the heart or the front of the neck.  You should not use e-stim over known cancer or infection, as it may increase the growth (not good).  Lastly because the risks are just not known it is not recommended to use during pregnancy.

5 thoughts on “What is E-Stim?

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  2. John Peterson

    Are there any requirements to have these devices periodically re-calibrated? My chiro gets a blank dumb look on his face when I asked him this.

    He has three different stim machines and he says different patients prefer different ones. How is this possible if they are supposedly all putting the same electrical current into your body when set to the same settings?

    If I weigh myself on a scale at home and it says 190 lbs, then if I weigh myself on a different scale somewhere else, it should also be close to 190 lbs. These stim machines don’t seem to have any consistent standards at all, with respect to the voltage, current, or frequency they put out. All appear to be different.

    How can someone receive proper medical care through the use of a device whose electrical output is virtually random from one machine to another?

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      Thank you for your questions John. First of all re-calibration would be more for mechanical devices that wear down over time and so loose their sensitivity such as a pressure scale. With Electrical circuits such as this device there are circuit failures, and I have had some machines repaired due to that, but because of the built in fail safes they just shut off. Imagine a TV; you don’t get a wrong frequency between channels when the TV gets old, the buttons on the remote just wear out and stop changing the channels. IFC devices should be tested periodically to see if they are working, but do not require regular calibration.

      I can understand why your Chiropractor might not understand your question. As a chiropractor he has studied the effect of the treatment on the body, but has probably not studied much electrical engineering, and likely doesn’t know much more about the device than how to operate it for the treatment he needs.

      To answer your next question most units are not set the same for every patient, and many things can affect people’s preferences, from comfort level, to pad placement, location in a room, to intensity settings on a particular device, and even just psychological conditioning.

      Another reason that calibration of these machines would not matter as much is because most Chiropractors will use a setting that changes the frequency, intensity and duration of impulses during the treatment. There is a standard and consistent range of all of these that are used, but it is constantly changing during treatment and as long as it is in the desired range it will provide the desired outcome.

      Different people will react differently at different frequencies, and so there is also some variation by patient. There is no treatment in the world that works the exact same on every person. Even medications like aspirin are harmful to some people, and have little effect on others, but they have enough consistency to utilize as a treatment and your doctor may alter dosage or treatment as needed for your particular reaction. The same thing occurs with Electrical Therapies. There is a recommended standard that is within normal limits, but it can be modified by your Chiropractor for your needs.

      I hope that helps. For additional information on electrical therapies I recommend a course by Dr. Joseph A. Gallo, DSc, ATC, PT, or the text book “Therapeutic Modalities: The Art and the Science.” There are many others out there.

    1. cmnacnud Post author

      Technically anyone with the appropriate training can place the pads. Even a patient can do it to themselves. In the office, the pad placement should be directed by the doctor. The training of the staff is ultimately the doctor’s responsibility. If this is a home TENS unit the doctor should educate the patient and or caregiver on the use of the device.


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