Ionophoresis is a painless and non-invasive method of delivering medicines into your body tissues.
A low-grade electric current is applied to your skin using an electrode, which delivers a drug through the skin into your underlying tissues.
In popular terms, it is also known as "an injection without the needle."
So, how does Ionophoresis work?
To understand it's working, let's know a tad about the chemistry of molecules.
All molecules are either positively or negatively charged. Two molecules with a similar charge repel while those with opposite charges attract each other.
So, placing medicine in a negatively charged solution and applying a negative electrical charge will push the medication away from the electrode. A therapist uses this treatment option to push medicine into the injured tissues.
The ions move inside the tissues through sweat gland ducts or hair follicles.
Ionophoresis is beneficial in various conditions such as tendonitis, bursitis, and even scar tissue.
The use of the ionic solution depends on the condition for which it is used. (More on this below)
What are the Common Uses for Ionophoresis?
Some common applications for Ionophoresis include:
- Muscle spasm
- Calcium deposition
- Scar tissues
- Edema and swelling
How is it Applied?
Once your therapist or physician decides to apply Ionophoresis, they will choose the ideal medication based on your condition.
Ionophoresis involves the use of a patch with a built-in battery for its application. This patch has two electrodes: negative and positive.
The therapist will now apply the medicine to either of the electrodes based on the type of medication to be used.
After this, the patch is applied to your body, and the current pushes the drug into your injured tissues.
What Does Ionophoresis Feel Like?
After the patch application, you may feel a tingling sensation. The treatment time depends on the amount of drug being administered.
After completion of the treatment, the therapist will remove the patch. You may notice redness of the skin where the medication electrode was placed. This is a common occurrence, and there is nothing to worry about it.
Your physician will advise a set of instructions to be followed after the treatment.
For instance, ice or heat application will be withheld as they may alter the circulation of the area. Altering the circulation may wash out the medicine that was pushed inside your body.
While using this therapy, it should be noted that it is a passive treatment option, which hastens the recovery time. It thus allows you a safe and quick return to daily activities after an injury.
But most conditions also need physical therapy programs for rehabilitation. So, it is likely that you will be advised exercises along with Ionophoresis.
Safety Protocol While Using Ionophoresis
The optimal protocol involves:
Direct current: 1.0 – 4.0 mA
20 – 40 minutes or treatment time
40 – 80 mA/ min for current delivery method
The safety protocol is essential as high current density may cause skin burn and tissue damage.
The recommended current densities are:
- Positive electrode: No more than 1.0 mA/cm2
- Negative electrode: No more than 0.5 mA/cm2
Here is how you can measure current density:
For instance, if your deliver a current of 2mA using a 6cm2 electrode, its density will be 2(mA)/6(cm2) = 0.33mA/cm2
You can also determine the safe maximal current that can be applied:
“Maximum Current (mA) = Maximum Safe Current Density (mA/cm2) x Electrode area (cm2)”
Preparation and Delivery
For the application of Ionophoresis, the skin should be cut and abrasion free.
Wash the area with soap and water before applying the Ionophoresis patch.
Some experts believe in heat application before Ionophoresis therapy; however, there is no enough evidence to support this.
Heat application is instead seen to reduce the quantity of medication passing through the skin.
The electrode pads are soaked in either plain water or a solution. The use of dry electrodes is not recommended.
Ensure adequate fixation of the pad and electrode to the skin. Uneven application may result in skin irritation or burn.
If you feel any painful or untoward sensation while taking the Ionophoresis therapy, let the treating professional know immediately.
The current may be increased slowly to the required amount. At the end of the therapy, the current is reduced gradually.
How to Use Ionophoresis for Various Conditions
Ionophoresis for Hyperhidrosis
Usually, the sessions last for about 25-40 minutes. Besides, more than one session will be needed in most cases.
For someone who would require regular treatment, your physician may advise you to get a portable Ionophoresis machine.
Ionophoresis for a sports injury
If you are going to use Ionophoresis for sports injury, the therapy will always be done at the doctor's office.
The therapist will add an anti-inflammatory medicine to the solution.
Each Ionophoresis session for sports injury may last for 10-15 minutes. You may need several sessions per week till the injury starts healing.
Ionophoresis for cancer
Ionophoresis has been used to deliver a range of anti-cancer medications.
It has shown a beneficial effect in clinical and pre-clinical studies for cancers of the eyes, bladder, pancreas, and skin.
Chemotherapy drugs to manage neck and head cancers can also be pushed in the tissues through Ionophoresis.
The benefit of using a chemotherapy agent through local Ionophoresis is the reduction of side effects. It is thus an ideal option for drugs that are toxic when delivered systematically.
Anti-cancer medications that be transferred through Ionophoresis are 5-fluorouracil and cisplatin that are used for skin cancer.
Some other cancer drugs that are used are STAT3 siRNA complex and imatinib mesylate.
How effective is Ionophoresis?
Effectiveness of Ionophoresis depends on the condition for which you are going to use it. This therapy is seen to be effective in managing pain, scar tissue, sports injury, calcium deposits, and inflammation.
(More about this below)
Types of Medicines Used
Different types of medicines can be used for Ionophoresis, and the ideal choice depends on the condition and goal of treatment. For instance, some drugs reduce calcium deposits while other decrease inflammation.
Here is a list of the commonly used medications:
It is a common medication used for Ionophoresis that belongs to the group of drugs known as anti-inflammatory medications. It is a common choice of drug in physical therapy clinics.
Dexamethasone can help in reducing inflammation associated with musculoskeletal disorders such as bursitis or tendonitis. Inflammation can restrict movements and cause pain and swelling.
By soothing your inflammatory process, dexamethasone improves your mobility and reduces pain.
It is a common choice of medicine for calcific tendonitis or adhesive capsulitis.
Acetic acid works by decreasing the deposition of calcium in your muscles, joints, and tissues.
Once the Ionophoresis therapy breaks the calcium deposits, your physician will advise specific exercises for your joints to improve their function and range of motion.
It is used in Ionophoresis therapy for the treatment of keloid scars and scar tissues. Your therapist may advise other treatment options along with Ionophoresis, such as stretching or scar tissue massage to manage your scar.
This medicine is mainly used in Ionophoresis to reduce muscle spasm. Along with this, stretching can be done between sessions to boost muscle function.
Iodine is seen to treat sclerotic disorders such as the frozen shoulder. It is also seen to boost blood flow to the tissues when used as an agent in Ionophoresis.
Magnesium sulfate can also help reduce muscle spasms. When administered through Ionophoresis, it can also help relieve muscle pain. Stretching along with this therapy can boost the beneficial effect.
It is a commonly used medication in the management of tissue swelling or edema. If you have swelling after a surgery or injury, Ionophoresis with hyaluronidase can be significantly effective.
This may surprise you, but tap water is seen to treat hyperhidrosis using Ionophoresis. Tap water can be used on either electrode, positive or negative.
If you have a condition such as arthritis or sports injury, your physician may advise Ionophoresis. If you are not sure about the therapy, here are some researches on the topic:
- A 2015 study published in the journal Physiotherapy analyzed the effect of lidocaine Ionophoresis for muscle spasms in kids who have cerebral palsy. In the study, 30 students were divided into active and passive groups. The active group received Ionophoresis and physical therapy, while the passive group just received physical therapy. It was seen that kids in the active group had significantly greater improvement than those in the passive group.
- Another study analyzed the effectiveness of Ionophoresis for shoulder impingement. In this study, eighty-eight subjects were divided into three groups: placebo Ionophoresis and placebo ultrasonophoresis, placebo ultrasonophoresis and actual Ionophoresis; and third with an actual ultrasonophoresis and placebo Ionophoresis. The group with Ionophoresis did not have significant advantages when added to the standard treatment.
- A 2013 study showed that Ionophoresis had a better effect than a transdermal patch.
So, Ionophoresis may be helpful for some conditions and not for others. Your doctor will help you understand if Ionophoresis can help.
Ionophoresis is a relatively safe procedure with minimal side effects. You may just feel a tingling or pricking sensation.
In some cases, redness at the site of application may also be present.
Some people also report rough or dry skin at the site of electrode application.
These side effects can be managed by using a skin lotion after Ionophoresis.
When to Avoid Ionophoresis
Ionophoresis is not recommended in the mentioned conditions:
- Allergy to the medication to be used
- Impaired sensation
- Impaired cognition
- High anxiety associated with the use of electric current
- Metal implant to the area
- Circulatory disorders
- Open wound
- Bleeding disorders
Ionophoresis is a safe, effective, and well-tolerated method for managing various conditions. In this therapy, medications or tap water is delivered deeper into the tissues using a low-grade electric current.
The use of Ionophoresis, along with other conservational interventions and therapies, is effectively seen to manage pain and other symptoms.
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