Iontophoresis is a therapeutic modality often used by physical therapists. It is a type of electrical stimulation that is used to administer medication into your body through your skin.
How Does Iontophoresis Work?
To understand the basic principles of iontophoresis, you should know that ionic charges that are alike will repel one another, while ions that are oppositely charged will be attracted to one another.
So if you take medicine in a solution that is negatively charged and you apply a negative electrical charge to it, the medicine in solution will be pushed away, or repelled. When using iontophoresis, your physical therapist is using electricity to push medicine into your injured tissues.
What are the Common Uses for Iontophoresis?
There are many different uses for iontophoresis. These include:
- Decrease inflammation
- Decrease pain
- Decrease muscle spasm
- Decrease swelling and edema
- Reduce calcium deposits in the body
- Manage scar tissue
Your physical therapist will work with you to decide on the treatment goals and the rationale for using iontophoresis.
How is Iontophoresis Applied?
Before applying iontophoresis, your physician or physical therapist will first decide on which type of medication to use. The medication used depends on the goals of the treatment. You will need to obtain a prescription from your doctor and get it filled at the pharmacy, then bring it with you to the physical therapist.
A iontophoresis patch, with a built-in battery is used to apply iontophoresis. The patch has two electrodes; one electrode is for the negative current, and the other is for the positive current. Your physical therapist will apply medication to either the positive electrode or the negative one, depending on the type of medication that is being used.
The patch is then applied to your body, and the electricity pushes the medication into your injured body part while you relax.
What Does Iontophoresis Feel Like?
When the patch is applied, you might feel a slight tingling sensation.
A typical iontophoresis treatment is administered for a specific time, up to 24 hours, depending on the amount of medication that your physical therapist is administering to you. When your treatment is completed, you will remove the patch. Do not be surprised if your skin is red where the medication electrode was placed as this is common after the treatment.
Your physical therapist will give you specific instructions for what to do after the treatment. Many times, withholding ice or heat treatments after iontophoresis is recommended since these treatments alter circulation to the injured area. This altered circulation might “wash away” the medication that was just introduced to your body. If you have any questions about what to do after treatment, be sure to ask your physical therapist.
Iontophoresis can be an important part of your physical therapy treatment to introduce medication into your body to help you return to normal activity quickly and safely after injury. It is very important to remember that iontophoresis is a passive treatment, and the most successful physical therapy programs require you to be actively involved in your care. Active exercises are often the most important component of your rehabilitation, and why our treatment plans involve exercise in addition to other treatments like Iontophoresis.