Explaining Electrotherapy

One of the many services we offer our clients at Technique Physio is electrotherapy. To some, it may sound a little intimidating, but it is in fact a completely safe, painless, and often helpful technique which is regularly used to reduce pain and help healing.

Electrical stimulation for pain control was actually first used in ancient Roman times. Scribonius Largus, court physician to the emperor Claudius, recorded that pain could be relieved by standing on an electrical fish at the seashore. Today, we have more reliable methods to deliver electrotherapy. There are several kinds of electrotherapeutic machines, so here is a little further information on the main types.


Interferential therapy, or IFT, uses a mid-frequency electrical signal which produces a massaging effect over the treated area at set intervals. It stimulates endorphins, which are the natural pain relievers of the human body, and so helps to relax strained muscles and promote soft tissue healing. Interferential therapy’s main uses are to relieve pain, stimulate muscles, increase local blood flow and reduce edema (swelling caused by fluid in the body’s tissues).


TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It uses an electrical current to stimulate the nerves in order to provide pain relief. Electrodes are placed on the skin, and a current is delivered through them at a set frequency and pulse rate to provide relief. Similar systems called EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation) are used in the same way to stimulate muscles to promote strength, or prevent atrophy through disuse.

Therapeutic Ultrasound

Ultrasound is familiar to most people thanks to the imaging devices used to capture the first pictures of unborn babies, however it can also be used therapeutically. A special gel is applied to the treatment area to reduce friction and aid transmission of the sound waves, which are very high frequency and cannot be heard by humans. Ultrasound is used to increase blood flow, thus speeding up the healing process and decreasing pain from swelling and edema. The process also provides a gentle massage of muscles, tendons and ligaments.

Many physiotherapists have mixed feelings about the usefulness of electrotherapy, as the evidence base for its use is currently limited. However when combined with manual therapy as part of a larger package of care it can provide useful benefits. For more information, or to make an appointment for electrotherapy in London, contact us today.