There are many physical modalities that therapists can use to help improve healing rates, provide comfort, and control inflammation and pain. These include heat, paraffin wax, ultrasound, muscle stimulation, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, interferential current, and cryotherapy.
Heat is used to relax muscles and joints that are stiff, decrease muscle spasms, prepare tissues for exercise, and improve blood flow, which enables tissues to heal. The most common methods of applying heat are moist hot packs, paraffin wax, and ultrasound.
Paraffin wax has a low melting point, therefore, it works well as a heating agent for hands and feet. By dipping into the wax multiple times, the therapist can build a layer that holds heat for 10-20 minutes. Paraffin wax treatments are often used to prepare tissues for exercise.
Ultrasound provides both heat and mechanical stimulation to tissues. The use of continuous-wave ultrasound can increase tissue temperature at depths of 3 to 5 cm, which helps improve tissue extensibility and modify blood flow. Pulsed ultrasound has been proven to improve blood flow without heat.
In order to enhance, supplement, or re-enforce a muscle contraction, a therapist can use electrical muscle stimulation. A low frequency electrical stimulation is applied to the patient through adhesive pads to improve joint mobility, break down adhesions, and decrease muscle spasms.
Transcutaneous nerve stimulation is a temporary pain reducer. Using a low voltage of electrical current with a varying frequency, your therapist can impede the brain’s perception of pain. Interferential current is a form of transcutaneous nerve stimulation primarily used for pain relief in cases that require deeper penetration and comfort.
Cryotherapy is used for inflammatory conditions like sprains and strains. It minimizes edema and hemorrhage that can be associated with injury, thus helping to limit pain. Cryotherapy can also help reduce muscle spasms and joint soreness.