Most people have at least heard of acupuncture, but electroacupuncture, also known as E-stim (electrostimulation), might be a little less familiar. And to some, it might sound even scarier than acupuncture. Let me assure you, it is neither scary nor dangerous.
Electroacupuncture is defined as the application of a pulsating electrical current to acupuncture needles which then stimulates the acupoints being used to elicit a specific response. The procedure of electroacupuncture is to insert the acupuncture needle, as would normally be done, and then attach an electrode to the needles to provide continued stimulation.
Electroacupuncture was developed in China as an extension of hand manipulation of acupuncture needles around 1934. Prior to utilizing electricity to stimulate the needles, practitioners had to manipulate the needles by hand to elicit a response, sometimes referred to as de qi. By the late 1940’s, electroacupuncture was further developed by a German doctor, Dr. Reinhold Voll, who had an interest in East Asian Medicine.
Dr. Voll researched the physiological effects and the associated correlations between acupuncture points, internal organs and the human body systems. His research findings found that by stimulating an acupuncture point using a pulsating current, it resulted in a reaction within the body. Through research, he was able to construct a schematic model by recording skin measurements at various acupuncture points, to create an accurate, non-invasive diagnosis of a patient’s general health and well being. Thanks to his research, there are numerous variations of electroacupuncture available today.
So how does it work? Traditionally, an acupuncturist would place one needle per meridian point and then manually stimulate the point using that needle and their hands. However, in electroacupuncture, two needles are placed per meridian point and an electrical machine is connected to these needles which sends a current back and forth, thus stimulating the meridian or section of the meridian.
Many people are familiar with machines known as TENS units that also apply electricity to various points on the body. But there are definitely differences between electroacupuncture and TENS. First off, electroacupuncture has a greater effect than a TENS machine for several reasons. A TENS machine is placed on the surface of the skin and electrified, but electroacupuncture has the benefit of piercing through the skin and going deeper into the tissue. Skin has a natural electrical resistance, as does bone and fat. However muscles and nerves have less resistance, allowing the electrical current to have a greater effect when it travels through the needle and into the muscle tissue.
Secondly, there are different types of electrical current that can be run through the acupuncture needles. For example, micro-current is a millionth of an amp which is too low to cause a muscle twitch or nerve response, but has specific profound effects on a cellular level. Different types of electrical currents can be used for specific purposes, such as repairing connective tissue tears, muscle strains or ligament / tendon damage.
Milli-current is also used in electroacupuncture and TENS machines. Instead of affecting the cells, it has broader effects on the muscles and fascia, but again only electroacupuncture is able to get deeper into the tissue into the affected area. Milli-current is best used to strengthen muscles, improve local circulation and relieve pain.
Lastly electroacupuncture combines the healing effects of acupuncture with electrotherapeutics, to strengthen clinical results of either on their own.
This leads us to the benefits of electroacupuncture. Understandably, some people may be wary about hooking their body up to an electrical current. But according to multiple scientific studies, electroacupuncture has some pretty significant benefits, even when compared to the time tested standard. Some specific benefits of this variation include increased efficacy in patients with arthritis and osteoarthritis. Likewise, chemotherapy related nausea and other chronic stress issues have been found to be reduced with electroacupuncture. And nerve-related issues seem to benefit most from electrical stimulation.
Here are some other ways that electroacupuncture can benefit you:
1. Gene Expression – Epigenetics refers to the study of biological mechanisms which can turn genes on and off. This means even if someone is born with a specific gene, it does not necessarily mean they will have the trait the gene is associated with. The gene may or may not be expressed based on the environment and actions of the body. Both acupuncture and electroacupuncture have been shown to be able to affect the expression of certain genes, meaning it is possible to positively change your gene expression with electroacupuncture.
2. Stem Cell Release – Stem cells refer to raw, undifferentiated biological cells that can transform to daughter cells and then either turn into new stem cells (self-renewal) or differentiate and become specialized cells such as brain cells, heart cells, blood cells, etc. No other cell has the ability to generate new cell types, making stem cells extremely unique and important in the repair of the body.
A study published in the journal ‘Stem Cells’ in 2017 showed that electroacupuncture in rats, horses and humans stimulated and mobilized mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) into systemic circulation. This allowed for greater thresholds for injury induced pain and significant increase in a type of collagen that promotes tendon repair and anti-inflammatory cells known to be predictors of faster healing time.
The same study also demonstrated that acupuncture point specificity caused differing effects to outcomes. Acupuncture points on the forelimbs were said to preferentially mobilize stem cells, whereas acupuncture points on the hind limbs preferentially mobilized macrophages (macrophages are cells that are formed in response to infection or accumulating damage or dead cells) into circulation.
3. Antioxidant Effect – An antioxidant is a molecule that inhibits oxidation of other molecules. When oxidation occurs, a chemical reaction can produce free radicals, leading to chain reactions that can damage cells. Antioxidant molecules stop these chain reactions from occurring.
In a study from 2011, ‘The Antioxidant Effect of Electro-Acupuncture in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease’ has shown electroacupuncture has an antioxidant effect to help protect neurons in the brain. Researchers in the study stated that due to this effect, electroacupuncture is a promising therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
Although electroacupuncture may be used as a component of nearly all acupuncture treatments, according to the literature, particularly good results are expected from electroacupuncture treatments of neurological diseases, including chronic pain, spasming and paralysis.
Just like traditional acupuncture, electroacupuncture can be used for many conditions without side effects. However, there are still some precautions that must be adhered to. Electroacupuncture is not recommended for people who have a history of seizures or those who have pacemakers. Electroacupuncture is not painful to the patient, but it does create a “tingling” sensation that may last for a short while after the treatment has ended.
If you or somebody you know suffers from chronic pain or any of the other aforementioned ailments, electroacupuncture might be a way to help them. Feel free to give us a call to see how we can help you or your loved one along the path to health and overall wellness.