Iontophoresis is a therapeutic modality often used by physical therapists to treat a variety of conditions. It is a type of electrical stimulation that is used to administer medication into your body through your skin.
To understand the basic principles of iontophoresis, you should remember some basic lessons from physics and chemistry class. In general, ionic charges that are alike will repel one another, while ions that are oppositely charged will be attracted to one another.
So if you have a medicine in a solution that is negatively charged and you apply a negative electrical charge to it, the medicine in solution will be pushed away, or repelled, from the negative electricity. When using iontophoresis, your physical therapist is using electricity to push medicine into your injured tissues.
The medication used in iontophoresis is ionically charged. So if your physical therapist decides to introduce medication into your injured tissues via iontophoresis and that medication is negatively charged, he or she will use a negative current to drive that medication into your body.
There are many different uses for iontophoresis. These include, but are not limited to:
- Decrease inflammation
- Decrease pain
- Decrease muscle spasm
- Decrease swelling and edema
- Reduce calcium deposits in the body
- Manage scar tissue
Your physical therapist will work with you to decide on the treatment goals and the rationale for using iontophoresis.
Before applying iontophoresis, your physical therapist must first decide on which type of medication to use. The medication used in iontophoresis depends on the goals of the treatment. Different medications have different effects on the body, and your physical therapist will decide on the best medication for your specific condition.
Many states in the US require that your physical therapist obtain a prescription from your doctor before administering the medication into your body via iontophoresis. Don’t be surprised if your therapist contacts your physician or asks you to contact your physician prior to administering iontophoresis medication.
A direct current electrical stimulation unit is used to apply iontophoresis. The unit has two electrodes; one electrode is for the negative current, and one is for the positive current. Your physical therapist will apply medication to either the positive electrode or the negative one, depending on the type of medication that is being used for iontophoresis.
The electrodes are then applied to your body. The electrode with the medication is applied to the area of your body that is being treated. The electrode without the medication is applied to your body nearby.
The electrical stimulation unit is then turned on, and the electricity pushes the medication into your injured body part while you relax.
Iontophoresis is a safe procedure, and side effects are minimal. While receiving the stimulation, you may feel a slight pin prick tingling sensation. Redness may also occur underneath the electrodes used for it. Some patients notice some dryness or rough skin in the area where the iontophoresis was administered. This can be mitigated by using skin lotion over the area several hours after receiving the treatment.
Keep in mind that iontophoresis is a passive treatment, and the most successful physical therapy programs require you to be actively involved in your care. Active exercises are often the most important component of your rehabilitation, so be sure that your physical therapist gives you a strategy to manage your condition when you are not in the physical therapy clinic.