When I hear people asking the same questions here and there, I will try to answer in a blog post, or in a newsletter. Electrical acupuncture, or e-stim has been coming up as a common question lately. So, here you go.
Yes, I do e-stim. Any acupuncturist can do electrical stimulation along with a regular acupuncture treatment. People tell me that they get e-stim with other practitioners more often than they do with their acupuncturist. That is because we work with slightly different systems.
Your acupuncturist will be working more with your whole body. Working on relaxation, stress and general balance as well as with whatever injury you came in with. Other practitioners, like a physiotherapist, will be more directly focused, most often working only on your injury. They will use fewer needles and will usually work more locally, on the injured area. They don’t usually spend much time with one person, so they tend to use brief and more aggressive treatments. There are also some limits as to the number of needles some other practitioners are allowed to use.
All needling is acupuncture, no matter what the practitioner calls it. Other terms for acupuncture were created mainly because of billing and insurance. Some practitioners needle more on trigger points, or more deeply, but acupuncturists can also do this. If your receipt says “acupuncture,” you will most likely want to submit it to your insurance company for compensation. Most insurance companies will only cover acupuncture when it is done by an acupuncturist. So, other names for needling were made up to avoid confusion and questions around why people couldn’t get their visits covered.
Back to the point, (pun intended!) acupuncturists don’t do e-stim quite as often, as, with our varied, whole-body approach, it is not needed as often. E-stim is normally used for more stubborn situations, when needles alone are not enough to shift the body back into balance. This is often true for very stubborn muscle pain and tightness. The needles by themselves may not be enough to get the body to let go of muscle spasms and pain, so a little stimulation can help. In this case, the electrical current causes a small and ongoing spasm to exhaust the muscle. Basically, the muscle gets so tired, it gives up and relaxes. The electrical current can also cause a numbing sensation to help with the pain.
E-stim can also be safely used on people who are too injured or too sensitive for more aggressive body work, like massage or cupping therapy. There is no manipulation of the body, so there is no danger of further injury, just a gentle current to relax muscles and ease pain.
Electrical stimulation should not be painful. A little discomfort is normal, but if you are experiencing pain, or if your body is jumping with the current, the e-stim is too strong. A tingling or slightly burning sensation is normal, but if the sensation is too strong, ask your practitioner to turn the current down. Many practitioners will give you the controls to hold, so you can turn the current up or down to your own comfort level.
Most of all, with any therapy, if you have questions that have not been answered, or if you are not feeling comfortable with what is happening, always tell the practitioner to stop. The “no pain, no gain” attitude is outdated and harmful and it will not help you to get better faster. Communication will help your therapist to help you.