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Physical Therapy Modalities

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Updated June 05, 2014

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). This technique helps ease pain through a low frequency electrical current transmitted by electrodes placed on the skin.
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Overview:

Physical therapists use a variety of modalities to help treat their patients. There are a variety of treatment modalities that can help strengthen, relax, and heal muscles. Below are a few of the treatment modalities physical therapists used daily in their practice.

Hot Packs:

Physical therapists wrap moist hot packs in several layers of towels and place them on the area that needs treatment. The heat provided by the hot packs has several important benefits. It relaxes tight muscles causing tissues to relax. This decreases pain caused by muscle tension or spasms. It also causes vasodilatation of the blood vessels which increases circulation to the area. Patients with muscle strains, spasms, or arthritis often benefit from treatment with moist hot packs.

Cold Packs:

Cold packs are a frozen gel substance used by physical therapists to treat areas of pain and inflammation. The cold packs are wrapped in wet towel and applied directly to the area in need of treatment. The cold transferred to the patient’s skin, muscle, and tissue has several beneficial effects. The cold temperature causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels in the area. This decreases the inflammation in the area. By decreasing inflammation, pain and swelling are decreased.

Ultrasound:

Ultrasound machines are a treatment modality used by physical therapists that utilize high or low frequency sound waves. These sound waves are transmitted to the surrounding tissue and vasculature. They penetrate the muscles to cause deep tissue/muscle warming. This promotes tissue relaxation and therefore is useful in treating muscle tightness and spasms. The warming effect of the
sound waves also cause vessel vasodilatation and increase circulation to the area that assists in healing. The physical therapist can also adjust the frequency on the machine to use waves that will decrease inflammation.

TENS:

A TENS unit stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is a small battery operated machine that uses electrical transmission to decrease pain. Electrodes are applied to the affected area. The machine is turned on and an electrical current is sent through the electrodes. A tingling sensation is felt in the underlying skin and muscle. This signal disrupts the pain signal
that is being sent from the affected area to the surrounding nerves. By breaking this signal, the patient experiences less pain.

Electrical Stimulation:

Electrical stimulation uses an electrical current to cause a single muscle or a group of muscles to contract. By placing electrodes on the skin in various locations the physical therapist can recruit the appropriate muscle fibers. Contracting the muscle via electrical stimulation helps strengthen the affected muscle. The physical therapist can change the current setting to allow for a forceful or
gentle muscle contraction. Along with increasing muscle strength, the contraction of the muscle also promotes blood supply to the area that assists in healing.

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