Electroacupuncture is similar to acupuncture, a widely practiced form of traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture involves the use of thin needles to stimulate specific pressure points linked to unwanted symptoms.
In standard acupuncture, one needle is used at each treatment point. Electroacupuncture is a modified form that uses two needles.
A mild electric current passes between these needles during treatment. This current generally applies more stimulation to acupoints than needle twirling or other hand manipulation techniques an acupuncturist might use.
Electroacupuncture is intended to help increase the potential healing effects of standard acupuncture.
Traditional Chinese medicine explains that health is the result of a harmonious balance of the complementary extremes of “yin” and “yang” of the life force known as “qi,” pronounced “chi.” Illness is said to be the consequence of an imbalance of the forces. Qi is said to flow through meridians, or pathways, in the human body. These meridiens and energy flows are accessible through 350 acupuncture points in the body. Inserting needles into these points with appropriate combinations is said to bring the energy flow back into proper balance.
There is no scientific proof that the meridians or acupuncture points exist, and it is hard to prove that they either do or do not, but numerous studies suggest that acupuncture works for some conditions.
Neuroscience can be used to explain acupunctures effect on pain and tissue recovery. Acupuncture points are seen as places where nerves, muscles, and connective tissue can be stimulated. The stimulation increases blood flow, while at the same time triggering the activity of the body’s natural painkillers.
Electroacupuncture is typically done by a qualified physiotherapist. Here’s what a session might look like:
People use electroacupuncture to address a range of symptoms and health issues, including:
The electrical current used in electroacupuncture doesn’t act on you directly. While you might feel some tingling or vibration, you shouldn’t feel any pain during the treatment, aside from a quick prick when the needle is placed. Many people report not feeling any pain, even with needle insertion.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidelines for the NHS on the use of treatments and care of patients. Currently, NICE recommends considering acupuncture as a treatment option for:
Acupuncture is also often used to treat other musculoskeletal conditions (of the bones and muscles) and pain conditions, including:
As with standard acupuncture, electroacupuncture can cause a few side effects for certain people.
These might include:
Electroacupuncture is generally very safe if done by a skilled provider. However, if it isn’t performed correctly, electroacupuncture can cause internal injuries or even electric shock.
In addition, you should take extra care when considering electroacupuncture if you:
A 2005 review looked at two studies exploring the benefits of acupuncture for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). One study used electroacupuncture treatments. In this study, those who received electroacupuncture treatment reported a significant reduction in knee pain just 24 hours after treatment. This effect lasts as long as four months after treatment.
A more recent literature review from 2017 looked at 11 randomised controlled trials on electroacupuncture for knee osteoarthritis. The results suggest electroacupuncture helped to both reduce pain and improve movement. The authors noted that the studies seemed to suggest four weeks of treatment were needed.
A 2014 literature review looked at multiple preclinical animal studies on electroacupuncture as a form of pain relief. The results suggest that electroacupuncture can help to reduce different types of pain.
The authors also found evidence to suggest a combination of electroacupuncture and pain medication may be more effective than medication alone. This is promising, as it could mean that using electroacupuncture for pain relief may reduce the need for high doses of medicine.
A 2005 review (2, 3) of 11 randomised trials looked at the use of acupuncture to reduce chemotherapy-related vomiting. The authors noted that electroacupuncture appeared to be more helpful for reducing vomiting right after a chemotherapy treatment than standard acupuncture.
Electroacupuncture is closely related to acupuncture, but it involves stimulating two needles with an electrical current. There is evidence to support electroacupuncture showing its benefit with several health issues, including arthritis, acute pain, and chemotherapy side effects. Acupuncture is a well-studied and evidenced-based practice that has been used successfully for thousands of years. However, as with all interventions it is not a one size fits all answer. It’s important the right treatment option is selected at the right time in the right situation, that is what we do at Pure Physiotherapy.