Effectiveness of Interferential Therapy Type EMS For Acute & Chronic Pain & Inflammation

Interferential Therapy (IFT)

In our office we use a combination of physical and manual therapies and therapeutic modalities in our approach to treating patients. While there is little controversy on the effectiveness of manual therapies (stretching, rehab, soft tissue mobilization), there seems to be controversy on the effectiveness of passive therapy modalities such as electric muscles stimulation, ice and heat.

Interferential therapy is the most popular of the electric muscle stimulation (EMS) therapies and one of the therapies you’ll most often see in your client’s treatment notes. IFT is considered a “passive modality” meaning a patient lays on a treatment table and the therapy is applied to them while they relax. It’s often applied in conjunction with ice or heat compresses. Nowadays many therapists, physicians and insurance companies have been demeaning passive modalities to the point one would think they were ineffective for chronic pain and had limited short term benefit in the acute pain stages. In fact, IFT is shown in several studies to be effective with both acute and chronic pain.

Benefits of IFT

IFT has been shown to reduce pain and increase patient satisfaction short term. IFT has also been shown to be beneficial in chronic pain patients as well. Additionally there are studying showing IFT improved functional outcomes.

For years chiropractic doctors have been using IFT on patients and reporting many of the following benefits:

  • Reducing or eliminating pain safely
  • Noticeable decrease in swelling/inflammation
  • Improvement of range of motion (ROM)
  • Increase localized circulation
  • Reducing both acute & chronic pain.

Having used IFT for the past 20+ years, I have personally found all of these benefits with IFT, especially when used in combination with other therapies as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. However the effectiveness of IFT does stand on its own.

The references that follow support these statements and show that IFT along with other treatment modalities can be used throughout the entirety of patient care.

Todd Narson, DC, DACBSP

–IFT improves patient satisfaction and pain reduction in ER patients

Aust J Physiother. 2008;54(4):243-9.

Early physiotherapy intervention in an Accident and Emergency Department reduces pain and improves satisfaction for patients with acute low back pain: a randomised trial.

Lau PM1Chow DHPope MH.

–IFT improved pain and function outcomes:

Braz J Phys Ther. 2018 Sep – Oct;22(5):347-354. doi: 10.1016/j.bjpt.2017.12.005. Epub 2018 Feb 2.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and interferential current demonstrate similar effects in relieving acute and chronic pain: a systematic review with meta-analysis.

–Combined Therapy (CT) effective in reducing pain and increasing ROM

Physiother Res Int. 2018 Oct;23(4):e1737. doi: 10.1002/pri.1737. Epub 2018 Aug 10.

Low-frequency high-intensity versus medium-frequency low-intensity combined therapy in the management of active myofascial trigger points: A randomized controlled trial.

–Active Interferential works better than placebo

Pain Manag. 2018 Nov 1;8(6):465-474. doi: 10.2217/pmt-2018-0034. Epub 2018 Nov 5.

Does the use of interferential current prior to pilates exercises accelerate improvement of chronic nonspecific low back pain?

Franco YR1Franco KF1Silva LA2Silva MO2Rodrigues MN2Liebano RE3Cabral CM1.

–Interferential Shows Short Term Efficacy On Chronic LBP reducing pain perception and perceived disability level

Clin Rehabil. 2017 Feb;31(2):242-249. doi: 10.1177/0269215516639653. Epub 2016 Jul 10.

Effect of interferential current therapy on pain perception and disability level in subjects with chronic low back pain: a randomized controlled trial.

–IFT Helps With Knee Osteoarthritis

Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2015 Jun;7(3):67-75. doi: 10.1177/1759720X15575724.

Efficacy of action potential simulation and interferential therapy in the rehabilitation of patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Eftekharsadat B1Babaei-Ghazani A2Habibzadeh A3Kolahi B4.

–IFT Relaxes Tight Trapezius Neck Muscles In Computer Users with Chronic Neck Pain – EMG Analysis

J Back Musculoskelet Rehabil. 2015;28(1):19-24.

Upper trapezius relaxation induced by TENS and interferential current in computer users with chronic nonspecific neck discomfort: An electromyographic analysis.

Acedo AALuduvice Antunes ACBarros dos Santos ABarbosa de Olveira CTavares dos Santos CColonezi GLFontana FAFukuda TY.

–Active Interferential Therapy in a therapeutic setting improved chronic LBP outcomes vs sham IFC treatment

Phys Ther. 2014 Apr;94(4):477-89. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20130118. Epub 2013 Dec 5.

Enhanced therapeutic alliance modulates pain intensity and muscle pain sensitivity in patients with chronic low back pain: an experimental controlled study.

Fuentes J1Armijo-Olivo SFunabashi MMiciak MDick BWarren SRashiq SMagee DJGross DP.

–IFT showed reduction of reliance on pain medication for patients with chronic non-specific LBP

Eur J Pain. 2016 Nov;20(10):1653-1666. doi: 10.1002/ejp.889. Epub 2016 May 6.

Effects of the carrier frequency of interferential current on pain modulation and central hypersensitivity in people with chronic nonspecific low back pain: A randomized placebo-controlled trial.

Corrêa JB1Costa LO1,2Oliveira NT1Lima WP1Sluka KA3Liebano RE4.

–Interferential stimulation effective in Acute Inflammatory Pain

Phys Ther. 2006 Jun;86(6):800-8.

Interferential therapy produces antinociception during application in various models of inflammatory pain.

Jorge S1Parada CAFerreira SHTambeli CH.

–IFT helps reducing reduce pain, pain medication taken, and swelling while increasing range of motion in patients undergoing knee surgery

Clin J Sport Med. 2003 Jan;13(1):16-20.

The effects of home interferential therapy on post-operative pain, edema, and range of motion of the knee.

Jarit GJ1Mohr KJWaller RGlousman RE.

–Increased analgesic effect for IFT and TENS in LBP patients

Wiad Lek. 2015;68(1):13-9.

[Comparison of the analgesic effect of interferential current (IFC) and TENS in patients with low back pain].

[Article in Polish]

Grabiańska ELeśniewicz JPieszyński IKostka J.

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