46 Electroacupuncture and TENS: Putting Theory into Practice Journal of Chinese Medicine • Number 92 • February 2010
Electroacupuncture and TEnS:
Putting Theory into Practice
By: Sean Walsh Abstract
and Katherine Electrotherapies can be a safe and effective way to alleviate pain, improve therapeutic outcomes and help patients
Berry recover more quickly from injury. This paper explains the neurophysiological mechanisms of electroacupuncture
and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TEnS) and outlines their methods of application for a range of
Keywords: conditions. When used appropriately the integration of electrotherapies with acupuncture can broaden one’s
Electro‑ scope of clinical practice.
transcutaneous n recent times the acupuncture and Chinese through patient feedback. The paper explains the
electrical nerve medicine (CM) professions have seen practical application of electroacupuncture (EA) and
stimulation, unprecedented growth. An ever‑growing number transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TEnS, electro‑ of new practitioners are graduating from tertiary and provides straightforward recommendations
stimulation, institutions, libraries are accommodating increasingly regarding their safe use as part of an integrated
electro‑ specialised texts, whilst the frontiers of research treatment approach.
therapy, pain continue to evolve; clinical trials in acupuncture
management, and Chinese medicine are now undertaken across What is the history of electrotherapy?
adjunct a vast range of medical disciplines. Accompanying Despite appearances, the therapeutic use of electricity
therapies. these developments is the manufacture of new and is not a new phenomenon. Ancient manuscripts
sophisticated devices, many of which are marketed record classical Greek physicians using electric eels
directly to practitioners, claiming to enhance the in footbaths to shock patients with heart conditions.
health outcomes of treatment. While regulatory, In the 1700s Benjamin Franklin was reported to
accrediting and teaching agencies try to keep up and have experimented with the therapeutic effects of
provide governance and structure to this changing electricity when he successfully applied a form of
landscape, practitioners are often alone in their electrotherapy to his neighbour’s frozen shoulder
attempts to find useful information regarding the (Kahn, 1991). In contemporary times electricity is
clinical application of such new ideas, techniques and utilised in a broad range of equipment that is used
products. At first glance it may seem easier to stick to to treat or diagnose illness, pain or dysfunction;
what one already knows, herbs, tuina, cupping and such appliances work either by applying a current to
moxibustion for example, rather than undertaking the body, or else utilising the body’s own electrical
the time‑consuming task of expanding one’s practice impulses. In comparison to Western medicine,
into new areas. Chinese medicine has only a relative short history
If we endeavour to learn more about of using electrotherapy, although the Chinese were
electroacupuncture ‑ one of the ‘new techniques’ being surprisingly quick to incorporate it into clinical
marketed to the profession ‑ we often find that our practice. In China there is a significant body of
hesitation and confusion is valid. Modern devices can literature that records the extensive experimentation
appear tricky to operate, their instructions are often and clinical application of electrotherapies since
ambiguous or highly technical (or even non‑existent) the 1950’s. The Chinese medicine profession in the
and the published literature is confusing and often Occident has been surprisingly slow to embrace
needlessly complex. Because of this, the authors electrotherapies, however; it is only in the last few
thought it appropriate to prepare a paper to help years that electrotherapies have become more widely
clarify the information available on this topic. The accepted as a standard part of the profession’s scope
following article outlines how to safely and effectively of practice.
incorporate electrotherapies into acupuncture
practice, thus enhancing our practice without long What is the therapeutic aim of
hours of unnecessary study. This information is based electrotherapy?
on teaching materials developed by Sean Walsh that The aim of electrotherapy from a Chinese medi