Whether by intuition or by accidental discovery, the use of bioelectrical stimulation to treat pain and medical disorders goes way back in human history. It is fascinating how consistently and for how long people have been using electricity for therapeutic purposes.
I will touch on that history and many other aspects of TPNS (transcutaneous peripheral nerve stimulation/also referred to as TENS), MCS (microcurrent stimulation) & NMS (neuromuscular stimulation), in brief, but the main purpose of this post is to give you a overview at how much bioelectrical medicine historically has been a part of mainstream medical practice and some insight into why it’s placed as an incredible part of our future.
(Main image from the Wellcome Collection - The electrical department of the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. The department was opened in 1913)
WHAT IS TPNS / NMS / MCS?
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES? (basic)
1. TPNS—(Transcutaneous Peripheral Nerve Stimulation)—Numbs pain by affecting the nerve endings.
2. NMS—(Neuromuscular Stimulant)—Works deeper and is often applied a little stronger. Works with the muscles to relieve pain and elicit a number of other actions within the body.
NMS has proven to be an effective means of preventing muscle atrophy. Doctors also see NMS as a means of increasing blood flow to muscles, increasing range of motion, increasing muscle strength, as well as enhancing muscle endurance. NMS will have pain management attributes in regards to muscle related pain, such as a spastic muscle, sore muscles, or tight muscles. Nerve stimulation is mostly, but not exclusively, more suited for nerve related pain conditions (acute and chronic conditions).
3. MCS—(Microcurrent Stimulation)—The application uses a very low voltage current, usually between 1uA and 1000uA. (My own research has shown optimal benefits for most applications used by NuroKor in the sub 1000uA range). A microamp (uA) is 1/1000 of a milliamp (mA), so 1000 uA equals 1 mA. Most nerve stim devices have a milliamplitude of 1-80 mA. Microcurrent is measured in MicroAmps, millionths of an ampere. Current levels that seem to be most effective in helping tissue heal range from 20 to 500 MicroAmps.
Where TPNS is used to hide and/or block pain, Microcurrent, because of its close proximity to our own body’s current, is thought to work on a more cellular level. It has been theorized that healthy tissue is the result of the direct flow of electrical current throughout the body. Electrical balance is disrupted when the body is injured at a particular site, causing the electrical current to change course. The use of Microcurrent over the injured site is thought to realign this flow, thus aid in tissue repair.
It has been found that ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) in the cell helps promote protein synthesis and healing. The lack of ATP due to trauma of the tissue results in the decreased production of sodium and an increase in metabolic wastes, which is perceived as pain. The use of Microcurrent at an injured area helps realign the body’s electrical current, increase the production of ATP, resulting in increased healing and recovery, as well as blocking the pain that is perceived albeit in a different way from the action of nerve stimulation.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF Bioelectrical stimulation
2750-2500 BC Amazingly, stone carvings from the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty show a Torpedo (an electric fish rather like electric eels) being used to treat pain. The fish is capable of producing powerful electrical shocks. Egyptians used these shocks to relieve pain by placing the fish on painful regions of the body.
Ancient Rome Similar use of torpedoes.
1600 Queen Elizabeth I’s physician explores the use of electrical charges in medicine
18th Century - Man-made electricity Real progress in electrotherapy begins as humans begin to discover how to make and control electricity.
1752 USA Benjamin Franklin uses electrostatic machines to treat patients in pain.
1745 Germany Kratzenstein outlines the use of static electricity to treat affected body parts.
1780 Italy Galvani, Professor of Anatomy experiments with the effects of electricity on muscular movement.
1800 Italy Carlo Matteucci shows that injured tissue generates electric current.
1820+ Worldwide Alternating current begins being used in Sinusoidal Stimulation.
1840 England Galvani’s discovery leads to the use of Galvanic currents. England’s first electrical therapy department is established at Guy’s Hospital, under Dr. Golding Bird.
1860+ England The start of Faradic Stimulation. Bristow develops the Bristow Coil, using Faraday’s principle of electromagnetically controlling the voltage of electricity.
1885 France D’Arsonval again uses torpedoes, as a model for pain-relief electrical devices.
1892 USA The Thomas Edison laboratory produces devices for local anesthesia during surgery.
1891 France D’Arsonval shows that a high frequency current (greater than 10,000Hz) can go through the body without producing any sensation other than heat. Below 10,000Hz, muscle contraction is elicited. He notes the ability of high frequency currents to modify physiological processes, including: respiratory exchange, dilation of peripheral blood vessels, arterial blood pressure.
1891 USA Nicola Tesla outlines medical uses of high frequency currents, developing the forerunner of Longwave, Shortwave and Microwave diathermy devices, used for heating of deep body tissues.
1900+ Worldwide The discoveries of Galvano, Faraday and Tesla are therapeutically adopted, stimulating the human body with Galvanic, Sinusoidal and Faradic currents, which became standard for Electrical Body Stimulation.
1908 Germany Von Berndt, Von Priess and Von Zeyneck publish a paper on the treatment of joint disease using high frequency waveform currents.
1914+ England World War I casualties are treated for exercise, pain management and healing with Faradic, Sinusoidal, Galvanic and Longwave diathermy currents.
1920+ Worldwide Combined Faradic, Sinusoidal, Galvanic and Switched Galvanic clinical “switch tables” are produced. Shortwave diathermy devices are produced.
1923 Australia Australian therapists responsible for treating World War I casualties with electro-medicine can obtain certification.
1930’s Germany Interferential currents are developed. Two alternating, medium frequency sinewave current paths are crossed to give pulsed low frequency modes of electrical stimulation. Interferential currents are much more comfortable than anything else available at the time.
1950’s onwards Russia “Russian Stimulation” is developed for athletes for building muscle and increasing power.
Mid-60s onwards - Modern Electrotherapy Present day TPNS begins with the landmark paper by Melzack and Wall, entitled “Pain Mechanism: A New Theory.” An enormous amount of scientific research followed, resulting in the therapy used up until recent times.
The “Pain Control Gate” theory suggested that strong afferent nerve stimulation by chemical, mechanical or electrical means overrides painful sensations at hypothetical pain control “gates” in the spinal cord.
Melzack and Wall’s “gate” is thought to be the substantia gelatinosa https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-0-387-79948-3_793
When the gate is open pain impulses can pass easily; when the gate is partially open only some pain impulses can pass and when the gate is closed no pain impulses are able to pass. They suggested that the position of the gate depends upon the degree of large or small fiber firing. When large fibers firing predominates, the gate closes so that no impulses can pass through, where as when small fiber predominates, the pain message can be transmitted.
Their work led to the development of the first Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) hardware device. Today, frequency specific TPNS protocol formulations like those developed by NuroKor are used worldwide to target a vast range of pain conditions without the side effects of drugs.
1970’s USA Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is acknowledged as a viable method of pain management by America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Many American companies begin production of TENS devices. The heart pacemaker is developed.
1977 Australia Lamers develops the “Biphasic Capacitance Discharge Micro-pulse” device, with equally active stimulation from both electrodes instead of just one.
1970’s & 80’s Sweden Ericsson and Sjolund publish research comparing constant, high frequency TENS to bursts of high frequency TENS (termed acupuncture-like TENS), finding that the latter offers better pain relief and does in fact instigate a release of endorphins into the bloodstream.
1980’s USA High voltage Galvanic stimulation of up to 500 volts is used in table-top clinical use devices.
1981 USA Becker electrically induces limb regeneration in frogs and rats.
1990’s Worldwide Advances in electrically conductive polymers and self-adhesive, electrically conductive gels allow for production of electrodes which are much more user-friendly.
1991 Australia Lamers manufactures the worlds first multi-function stimulator, combining a TENS (for pain relief, etc.) with EMS (for muscle strengthening).
2000 USA John McDonald of Washington University uses Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS) to exercise the muscles of a quadraplegic of 8 years. The patient defies medical science by regaining limited sensation and movement in his body.
Current day and future
Large players in the medical device arena and pharmaceutical giants are investing billions in bioelectroinic medical research. A vast majority of that research is around implantable technology or electroceuticals as they are sometimes referred to. On the other consumer side, challenger Biomedicals like NuroKor are quick to market with nimble solutions to existing uses for improving health now and building on pre-existing knowledge and studies while working on future use and application technology to put the power or bioelectrical medicine in the hands of the user. Find out more about our work at www.nurokor.com