History of Electrical Pain Relief
In this section, learn about the history of electrical pain relief, read about the benefits of electrotherapy, and discover what types of electrotherapy technology are available today.
Anyone who has had an X-ray, used a heart rate monitor, or had an MRI
scan is familiar with the use of electronic medical devices for diagnostic
purposes. Less familiar though, may be the use of electronic medical
devices for treatment purposes.
One of the most common therapeutic applications of electronic medical
devices is pain relief. These electrotherapy devices are accepted
as a viable alternative to pharmaceutical methods for pain relief and
are routinely used both at home and in hospitals by physiotherapists
and other medical professionals.
Early Origins of Electrotherapy
Believe it or not, electricity has been used to relieve pain since
circa 2750BC when the ancient Egyptians took advantage of the unique
characteristics of the Torpedo fish. Rather like electric
eels, this fish is capable of producing powerful electrical shocks.
Our ancestors used these electrical shocks to relieve pain by placing
the fish on painful regions of the body. This technique was also used
in 47 AD by Scribonium Largus, physician to the Roman emperor Claudius,
"...For any sort of foot gout, when the pain comes on it
is good to put a living black torpedo fish under his feet while
standing on the beach, not dry but one on which the sea washes,
until he feels that his whole foot and ankle are numb up to the
18th Century - Man-made electricity
Little progress in the field of electrotherapy was made until man discovered
how to generate electricity for himself:
- In 1752 Benjamin Franklin used electrostatic machines to treat patients
- In 1892 the Thomas Edison laboratory produced machines that could
induce local anesthesia during surgery.
1967 onwards - Modern Electrotherapy
Modern electrotherapy has moved on someway from its aquatic origins.
Perhaps the biggest single advance in electrotherapy to date was made
by Ron Melzack and Pat Wall when they published their landmark paper
describing a "gate control theory of pain reduction" in 1967.
Their work led to the development of the first Transcutaneous
Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) device. Today, TENS is used
worldwide to combat a vast range of pain conditions in a non-invasive,
non-addictive, and drug-free manner.
Electrical stimulation of the spinal cord for pain relief started in the early 1970's,
when electrodes were implanted in the spinal cord to block the sensation of pain. This
technique is called Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS). Spinal Cord Stimulation is often effective
against longstanding pain, but has the disadvantage that surgery is required to implant the
1991 - The Discovery of TSE
Inspired by the success of Spinal Cord Stimulation, in the early 1990's Drs Alex Macdonald
and Tim Coates found that if TENS pulses were reduced in time, but increased by a corresponding
amount in voltage, the pulses would penetrate deeper into the tissues. Furthermore, the intensity of
these pulses could be increased far beyond the level at which longer TENS pulses became intolerable.
Drs Macdonald and Coates had discovered Transcutaneous Spinal Electroanalgesia or "TSE". They were granted patents in 1995 and 1997 and an additional patent on further improvements in 2007.
This discovery allowed Macdonald and Coates to build a machine that could provide over 10 times
the power of traditional TENS machines available to home users. Importantly, their machine could
produce the intensity necessary to stimulate nerves entering the spinal cord, which lies about 5cm under the skin.
By directly affecting the passage of pain signals in the spinal cord, it was found that pains anywhere on the
body could be relieved. Furthermore, several painful areas could be treated simultaneously with two standard electrode placements.
TSE uses very short electrical pulses which activate nerves in the spinal cord via electrodes on the skin. These pulses are only
a few millionths of a second in duration, but up to 250V, the voltage of a mains outlet in Europe. However, because of their very
short duration, too short to cause any more than a mild tingling sensation in nerves under the skin, the therapy is comfortable
and very safe to use.
TSE has been used as a form of electrical pain relief since its discovery in 1991. No serious side effect or interaction with
medication has been reported despite being used in over 100 NHS hospitals and by thousands of patients in their homes. TSE will work
alongside drug therapy without harmful interactions or side effects and is complimentary to physiotherapy, osteopathy and acupuncture.
TSE has also been clinically proven to improve mood and aid relaxation.
Find out more about Acticare TSE in the following sections.