Bioelectricity and microcurrent therapy for tissue healing – a narrative review

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Source: Poltawski, L and Watson, T: Physical Therapy Reviews 2009 VOL 14 NO 2 (105-114); School of Health and Emergency Professions, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, AL10 9AB, UK
Background: Microcurrent therapy (MCT) uses electric currents similar to those produced by the body during tissue healing. It may be a particularly beneficial where endogenous healing has failed.
Aim: To review evidence regarding microcurrent in tissue healing and the application of MCT.

Methods: All peer-reviewed studies concerning microcurrent and MCT were sought, and representative literature was synthesized to indicate the scope and weight of current evidence.

Results: Microcurrent appears to play a significant role in the healing process, and MCT can promote healing in a variety of bone and skin lesions. The evidence for other tissues is encouraging but presently scant.

Summary: MCT may have unrealized potential in the treatment of dysfunctional tissue healing and deserves greater attention by researchers and clinicians.

Conclusions: The evidence in support of MCT is convincing enough to justify its inclusion in the clinician’s repertoire for treatment of several examples of recalcitrant bone and skin lesions. Indeed federal and private health insurance providers in the USA have accepted its use (along with other forms of Poltawski and Watson Bioelectricity and microcurrent therapy for tissue healing) for spinal fusions and hard to heal skin ulcers for some years. In contrast, the lack of substantial and robust human trial evidence for the use of MCT with musculoskeletal soft tissue lesions is frustrating. Clinicians are justifiably cautious when presented with yet another form of electrotherapy, especially when the case for those that are more familiar and well-used, such as therapeutic ultrasound, has been questioned in several reviews.

Yet MCT has several significant features in its favour: there is already substantial evidence that it can promote healing in a variety of tissue types and disorders, especially where other approaches have failed; it may help redress an underlying physiological dysfunction as well as reducing its symptoms; its mechanism of action appears to be as a trigger or facilitator of the whole healing process, unlike some new approaches such as exogenous growth factors, which have specific targets in the healing cascade.

Reported side-effects of MCT are few and minor, and it can be provided by a small, portable generator, over an extended period where necessary, requiring minimal therapist supervision once initiated. The therapy has been shown to be most beneficial when it is used as part of a broader management strategy.

Given these characteristics, the potential for MCT in a range of recalcitrant musculoskeletal disorders is worthy of closer attention by both research and clinical communities.

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