Electrotherapy Treatment in Physiotherapy for Pain Relief | TENS and Ultrasound Treatments for Pain

What is Electrotherapy?

Electrotherapy is the use of electrical equipment as a medical treatment. It can apply to a variety of treatment, including ultrasound, interferential therapy, TENS and electrical stimulation.

ULTRASOUND has been a part of clinical practice since sometime back in the 1950s and remains a popular and evidenced intervention for a range of clinical problems.

Ultrasound is an electrotherapy that is often used in acute injuries to promote healing and reduce inflammation. An ultrasound machine creates mechanical sound waves that produce energy, which when they enter the skin cause microvibrations in the cells improving tissue healing and reducing pain. It can also improve the way collagen is laid down when a tissue is trying to repair itself, increasing the tensile strength and enhancing scar mobility, resulting in a quicker return to function.

Ultrasound is used particularly in sports injuries, such as ligament sprains and muscle tears, together with joint and soft tissue mobilisations and specially designed rehabilitation programmes of exercise.


Interferential therapy is commonly used for pain relief, to promote tissue healing and relieve muscle spasm.

It is applied by placing electrodes on the skin and a gentle tingling sensation is experienced by the patient. IFT uses an electrical current to the local tissues and applies two different frequencies that interfere with one another to produce a medium frequency current within the tissues.

Interferential therapy can be used for the following symptoms:

  • Acute and chronic pain e.g. lower back pain and sciatica, OA knee
  • Muscle spasm
  • Swelling following ligament sprains and muscle strains.

Reference for the use of IFT  click here


NMES is a type of electrotherapy that stimulates a muscle contraction using electrical impulses in order to strengthen weak muscles, reduce swelling and relieve pain.

The impulses are generated by a device and delivered through electrodes (pads that adhere to the skin) over the middle of the muscles that require stimulating, which causes the muscles to contract.

For example, NMES can be used following knee surgery to stimulate the muscles in the thigh to minimise muscle wastage and increase strength.

The NMES can be hired and used at home with guidance by your physiotherapists, to compliment your home exercise programme.

When used electrotherapy, is only a small part of your treatment. Often, by providing pain relief, the physiotherapist can then address problems such as joint stiffness, poor muscle control and movement faults.

Reference for electrotherapy click here

TRANSCUTANEOUS ELECTRICAL NERVE STIMULATION (TENS) is a method of pain relief involving the use of a mild electrical current.

A TENS machine is a small, battery-operated device that has leads connected to sticky pads called electrodes, which are attached directly to your skin. When the machine is switched on, small electrical impulses are delivered to the affected area of your body, which you feel as a tingling sensation.

The electrical impulses can reduce the pain signals going to the spinal cord and brain, which may help relieve pain and relax muscles. They may also stimulate the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.

TENS may be able to help reduce pain and muscle spasms caused by a wide range of conditions including:

  • arthritis
  • knee pain
  • neck pain
  • back pain
  • sports injuries

TENS isn’t a cure for pain and often only provides short-term relief while the TENS machine is being used. The treatment is generally very safe and you may feel it’s worth trying instead of, or in addition to, the usual medical treatments.

TENS machines are used as a home treatment and are purchased by the patient. Your physiotherapist can order a TENS machine with the average cost being £30-40. It is recommended that you have a proper assessment first, so you can find out whether a TENS machine is appropriate for you and be taught how to use it properly.

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