If you have been struggling with chronic musculoskeletal pain for some time, the thought of acupuncture has probably crossed your mind since this treatment approach is well known for its potential to relieve pain and discomforts that don’t respond in a satisfactory manner to other approaches like pain medications, surgery, or physical therapy.

Nowadays, acupuncture is used extensively in the treatment and management of these chronic pain conditions, and ancient practice has been expanded and refined by absorbing modern knowledge of the nervous system, neurotransmitters, and mechanisms of tissue healing.

Every single process in the body, including the brain, is highly depended on energy in the form of electricity, magnetic fields, and even gravity. Electricity is particularly relevant to the functioning of the nervous system. Action potentials propagate information along the nerves to communicate with the brain and tissues throughout the body. Electrolytes inside the cells and in the fluid surrounding cells allow charges to be maintained and distributed.

The development of electrotherapy started in earnest in the mid-18th century in Europe as well as Japan, where an acupuncturist used electricity in combination with acupuncture to relieve muscle spasms. Since then, electricity has become a prominent therapeutic modality in both Western biomedicine and East Asian acupuncture.

The effects of therapeutic electricity on the body are manifold. They include stimulation of endorphin production—the bodies own pain killers, release of spasms, and healing of injured tissues—even reducing scar tissue. The addition of electrical stimulation often enhances the pain-relieving effect of manual acupuncture and has been observed by many patients to last longer as well.

Modern electrical stimulators for acupuncture use are well-designed devices that allow the practitioner to control the applied current in several different ways to assure that the frequency and intensity are appropriate for the chosen application and comfortable for the patient. The sensation should be noticeable but mild enough to allow relaxation while needles are retained. Patients usually report a slight tingling once the controls are set.

It is common that a set of electroacupuncture leads will be connected to points in the area of injury and supplemented with manual acupuncture at points along the affected channels or addressing underlying imbalances according to Chinese medicine theory. This approach often enhances the overall treatment effect and allows patients not only to experience improvement in their symptoms but in their overall health and wellbeing.

Several consecutive treatments are usually needed to improve a condition to satisfaction. This is generally true, whether or not electrostimulation is added to manual acupuncture. Nonetheless, results can accumulate within a few weeks and last for months or even years. The response depends on many individual factors, so it is difficult to make generalizations and predictions.

When we employ electrostimulation during acupuncture treatments, we observe several precautions and contraindications to prevent side-effects. We avoid the area around the heart or crossover from one side of the chest or upper back to the other. We also do not use electroacupuncture in patients with pacemakers. Just like in manual acupuncture, we use techniques that prevent organ puncture. Electroacupuncture administered by a knowledgeable and experienced acupuncturist is exceedingly safe.

So, when would you want to consider seeking out electroacupuncture? If you are already receiving manual acupuncture for musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction but not experiencing the desired relief, adding electrostimulation may tip the needle—figuratively speaking. Electroacupuncture can also promote healing of bones, joints, cartilage, intervertebral disks, tendons, ligaments, etc. You should consider electroacupuncture if conventional methods of pain relief have not worked for you or are unappealing due to their possible side-effects.

A recent clinical study investigated the effect of acupuncture on folliculogenesis in women with PCOS. (Budihastuti et al., 2019) The results were very promising and confirmed results from earlier research. PCOS is a complex syndrome affecting a high percentage of women of reproductive age. Let’s hope that more work in this field will give us further insight and options to treat chronic conditions effectively and safely using therapies like electroacupuncture.

© 2021 Christiane Siebert