Treatments & Therapies

Direct current therapy – treatment, effects & risks

Direct current therapy

Direct current therapy is a form of electrotherapy that is used particularly for circulatory disorders , neuralgia and cancer treatment . Depending on how it is carried out, this therapy reduces or increases the excitation of muscle and nerve cells . However, if the current at the electrodes is too high, necrosis can occur as a side effect.

What is direct current therapy?

Direct current therapy is an electrotherapy that is carried out with direct current. In addition to direct current therapy, there are also various forms of alternating current therapy. Low, medium or high-frequency alternating currents are used.

A prerequisite for direct current therapy is the presence of two electrodes between which a current flows. The electrodes are each a cathode and an anode. The cathode is negatively charged. From there, electrons migrate to the positively charged anode via ion and electron transfer. A special chemical milieu develops at each electrode, which changes the membrane potential of the nerve cells. This leads to hyperpolarization at the anode and depolarization of the membrane potential at the cathode.

Function, effect & goals

Direct current therapy is used on the one hand for analgesia (pain relief) in various diseases such as arthrosis , arthralgia , back pain , fibromyalgia or neuralgia and on the other hand for the treatment of circulatory disorders.

The circulatory disorders treated in this way can have both functional and organic causes. These include arterial occlusive disease, hematomas or ditorsion. The mechanism of action of direct current therapy is based on the different polarization of the membrane potentials of the cells. As already mentioned, hyperpolarization occurs at the anode and depolarization occurs at the cathode. Every cell has a resting potential. In the event of depolarization, this potential is reduced by the influx of sodium ions into the interior of the cell. In contrast, hyperpolarization is characterized by an increase in the resting potential. While depolarization increases the excitability of nerve and muscle cells, hyperpolarization dampens excitability.

Dampening the excitability at the anode causes the analgesic effect of direct current therapy. In addition, however, there is also hyperemia (increased blood flow), which is caused by the irritation of the vasomotor nerves, the release of vasoactive substances and the change in the pH value. This affects the skin and skeletal muscles . This process takes place at the cathode. Substances can also be transported by direct current.

Overall, the direct current strengthens the metabolic and nutritional status, growth and regeneration of the cells. The switching of the electrodes has a great influence on the effect. Therefore, before the therapy, there must be clarity about which effect is to be achieved. There are various methods of direct current therapy for this purpose. For example, four-cell or two-cell baths are used in patients with polyneuropathy or cardiac diseases. If there are functional or vegetative dysfunctions, the Stanger bath is used. This method is used to treat, among other things, anxiety, pain and, in particular, pain associated with bone cancer metastases. At the StangerbadIt is a full bath in which the patient lies in the bathtub.

The electrodes are located outside and ensure the galvanic direct current in the bathtub. Depending on the polarity, the Stanger bath has a calming or stimulating effect. Excitation, however, does not usually go to the muscles. Another method of applying direct current therapy is iontophoresis. With this method, continuous or pulsed direct current is passed through defined areas of the skin. The pulsed direct current is particularly suitable for sensitive people because there are hardly any side effects. However, continuous direct current is more effective. The mode of action of iontophoresis has not yet been fully elucidated.

However, good results are achieved with hyperhidrosis (increased perspiration), with foot and hand eczema caused by hydrosis or with a tendency to gram-negative foot infections. Overall, direct current therapy has the advantage that it can be carried out very well on an outpatient basis. In cancer , the formation of metastases is prevented. In addition to combating pain and promoting blood circulation, this procedure also improves wound healing.

Risks, side effects & dangers

However, there are also disadvantages of direct current therapy. It must not be used on cardiac pacemakers , sensitivity disorders , thrombosis , skin lesions, open wounds, metal implants, inflammation and feverish processes .

The use of this therapy should also be avoided in the case of pulmonary hypertension or decompensated heart failure . This applies here in particular to the use of a Stanger bath. The influence of electricity can lead to dangerous complications with these pre-existing conditions. Otherwise, treatment with direct current usually has no side effects if it is carried out correctly. Only with treatments in the chest area, face or neck can there be slight and harmless side effects. Symptoms such as a metallic taste or flickering eyes can then occur during head treatments.

Sometimes colored flashes appear instead of flickering eyes. Only if the colored flashes persist should the ophthalmologist be consulted to rule out a possible retinal detachment. However, improper use of direct current therapy can lead to necrosis . If the current intensities are too high, so-called coagulation necrosis occurs at the anode and colliquation necrosis at the anode. In coagulation necrosis, cytoplasmic proteins are denatured . The tissue in question dies.

The colliquation necrosis that occurs at the cathode is characterized by the liquefaction of the tissue. Tissues with a high fat and low collagen content , such as the brain or pancreas , are particularly at risk. The different forms of necrosis are due to the different development of the pH value at the corresponding electrodes.

Lisa Newlon
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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.