What is Electromedicine?
(923 Words)

By Ray B. Smith, Ph.D., M.P.A.

While the use of electricity for healing goes back more than 2,000 years, scientific electromedicine has only evolved in the past 50 years.  The latest treatments involve only microcurrent levels of stimulation, often sufficiently minute as to not even be felt by the patient being treated.

Electrosleep treatment, usually involving less than 1.5 milliampere intensity, came into the U.S. from Japan in the late 1960s, which, in turn had borrowed it from Russia and other East Block countries. Since the electricity was pulsed across the head, the FDA renamed it cranial electrotherapy stimulation (CES) in 1978, and now allows its marketing in the U.S. for the treatment of anxiety, depression and insomnia.

A major use of CES is in the drug abstinence syndrome in which people are withdrawing from various substances of addiction, be it nicotine, alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine or heroin.  Anxiety, depression and insomnia are defining symptoms of the syndrome, and such patients benefit dramatically from the use of CES during the withdrawal period.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), typically using a strong current of 60 milliamperes, came on the scene in the 1970s following Melzack and Wall's introduction of the gate control theory of pain in which counter stimulation could effectively close a spinal "gate" to peripheral pain messages attempting to ascend the spinal-thalamic tract to the brain.  Microcurrent devices now attempt to alter or eliminate the pain message by inducing healing at the pain site, as opposed to serving as a counterirritant to close the gate to an ascending message.

Following closely upon TENS was the introduction, in the 1980s, of electromagnetic bone healing devices that are utilized to heal non-union fractures.  For the first time this allows us to prevent tragedies like that of Dr. Livingston, the discoverer of the Nile, who lived the final thirty years of his life with an unhealed fracture of the arm that he suffered from a lion's bite.

So from slow beginnings in the latter half of the 20th century, we now have many FDA approved electrical devices. Some stimulate muscle contraction so that persons with paralyzed muscles can maintain muscle tone in unused limbs. Other disabled persons use them in learning to walk again, or in developing new skills in using their arms or hands, for example. 

Electrical stimulators are now widely implanted in the body, such as cardiac pacemakers, electrical stimulators in various parts of the brain to prevent such things as fine tremor of the hands or whole body seizures, and dorsal column stimulators to interdict pain from various causes.

We have had electroacupuncture since the early 1970s when it was introduced from China via Hong Kong. One of the latest innovations in this area is the electroacupuncture facelift that is becoming increasingly popular.

Melzack's group has now centered their theoretical thinking on a pain neuromatrix in the brain that can fire pain messages in the absence of incoming stimuli from the body.  This can account for phantom limb pain and may play a role in many types of chronic pain such as fibromyalgia and chronic spinal pain.  Our latest Alpha-Stim CES research is showing dramatic improvement in pain in various parts of the body even though the current is applied only across the head.

By using Alpha-Stim technology in a combination of probe stimulation on the body near pain sites, plus CES across the head, a recent survey of 2,500 patients indicated that 94% of those suffering from arthritis reported significant improvement, as did 100% of those suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, 94% of those suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, 93% of those suffering from chronic pain at various sites on their body, 91% of those suffering from fibromyalgia, 98% of those suffering from migraine headache, 93% of those suffering from back and neck pain, and 89% of those suffering from Temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

Another recent study of 202 chronic pain patients treated for 30 minutes or less in several medical clinics with microcurrent probes on or near the pain site on the body, plus CES across the head, showed that their pain was reduced by an average of 50% or more, and 17% were entirely pain free at the end of the 30 minute treatment period.  Only 12% experienced no benefit from that length of treatment.  The pain ranged from head to foot, and no relationship could be found between pain site and percent improvement. Interestingly, those who had been in pain longest showed the greatest gains.  While inconsistent with pharmaceutical intervention, that has been a recurring finding in CES studies of chronic pain.

Electrical stimulation that is intended to effect changes anywhere in the body can only be successful if the necessary nutrients are available when the treatment is applied. For example, researchers believe that CES helps recovering addicts by stimulating the brain to make more endorphins, but these can only be produced if the requisite amino acids and other nutrients are present in the diet and in an available form.  Similarly, microcurrent stimulation of damaged tissue can not instigate, or potentiate the rate of body repair if the requisite nutrients are not available at the damaged site, just as electromagnetic bone healers can not be expected to be successful if insufficient calcium is available at the fracture site, among a multitude of other required nutrients.

In summary, electromedicine in its various forms is fast becoming one of the primary safe, efficacious and cost effective treatments of choice as we enter the 21st century.

Proceed to A Practical Protocol for Electromedical Treatment of Pain