Electrical Nerve Stimulation Options for the Treatment of Chronic Pain Caused by Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy



If you are going to consider electrical nerve stimulation as a treatment option for chronic pain caused by Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) along with managing other RSD symptoms, it is important that you understand:

  • What are your options for chronic pain management using electrical nerve stimulation?
  • What are the differences between these electrical nerve stimulation treatment options for rsd symptoms?
  • What are the relative benefits of these electrical nerve stimulation options for the treatment of rsd symptoms ?

When considering electrical nerve stimulation treatments, you have three basic options:

  1. Electro-Acupuncture
  2. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
  3. Interferential Current Therapy

Each of them is different in some way, though all provide some level of benefit that those suffering from chronic pain caused by Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy can potentially benefit from. Below, we will discuss each of the treatment options, outline some of their differences by sharing the pros and cons and then offer some options for pursuing additional information on each one. For a summary of this information, please refer to the infographic below.

Electro-Acupuncture

Electro-Acupuncture is a relatively new discipline in the field of acupuncture and can be used in the treatment of chronic pain associated with RSD. As the name implies, this is a form of acupuncture. The key difference is that the needles used are connected a small machine that transmits electric impulses through the needles once they are inserted under the skin. Anecdotally, before I was diagnosed with RSD, I underwent an EMG examination where the doctor inserted small pins into my neck and shoulder to try to measure the strength of the impulse transmitted relative to what was received. This type of test is helpful in identifying nerve damage. Following the test, I had an extended period of pain relief from the chronic pain I had been suffering from up to that point.
The downside of this type of treatment is the overall ongoing expense associated with visiting a properly licensed medical professional to administer the electro-acupuncture treatment. Some insurance companies provide coverage for visits to an acupuncturist under options for alternative/holistic medicine. This type of coverage can greatly reduce the financial burden associated with ongoing electrical nerve stimulation treatment. The benefits of electro-acupuncture are similar to those of Inferential Current Therapy. Pain relief tends to last longer than when transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is used.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is probably the most well-known electrical nerve stimulation treatment option for those who suffer from reflex sympathetic dystrophy as they try to manage RSD symptoms. Usually, this type of therapy is administered using a small machine that delivers electrical impulses through electrodes placed on the skin. These impulses penetrate soft tissue and can be effective in the temporary relief of neuropathic pain. These machines are commonly referred to as TENS units and can be purchased in a number of places, in particular online at stores like Amazon.com. The primary benefit of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is relief from chronic pain, although it is not a permanent pain relief solution. A nerve block is a longer-term relief option that may be considered in conjunction with Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for longer-term effective management of chronic pain associated with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.

Interferential Current Therapy

Of the various options for electrical nerve stimulation, Interferential Current Therapy is less well-known when compared to Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation as a treatment option for those who suffer from reflex sympathetic dystrophy. As with TENS, this type of therapy is administered using a small machine that delivers electrical impulses through electrodes placed on the skin. The primary difference is the frequency of the impulses delivered. TENS units typically deliver impulses at a rate that ranges between 2 and 160 impulses per second while Interferential Current units deliver impulses at a rate of 4,000 to 4,400 impulses per second. Another key difference is the way that these impulses penetrate soft tissue. TENS units deliver their impulses directly below the electrode placed on the skin. Interferential Current units transmit impulses from one electrode to another one placed in close proximity. The primary benefits of this approach versus that of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is longer-term relief from chronic pain, although it is also not a permanent pain relief solution. As mentioned above, a nerve block is a longer-term relief option that may be considered in conjunction with Interferential Current Therapy as an option. Machines for Interferential Current Therapy, as with TENS units, can be purchased in a number of places.

Ultimately, the electrical nerve stimulation treatment option chosen for the management of chronic pain and other RSD symptoms is a matter of personal preference. Each of them provides some level of benefit and each has a level of cost, associated with that benefit (either financial, duration of pain relief or otherwise). Whatever the choice, the relief from chronic pain is the most important consideration.

The infographic below offers a high-level summary of the information outline here; please share it if you find it helpful! And please like What-Is-RSD.com on Facebook and Google+.





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