Traditional physiotherapy interventions for pain conditions
- 1 Traditional Physiotherapy Modalities
- 1.1 Electrotherapy
- 1.2 Manual Therapy
- 1.3 Integration with other pain treatment approaches.
- 1.4 Additional Resources
- 1.5 Recent Related Research (from Pubmed)
- 1.6 References
Traditional Physiotherapy Modalities
The term electrotherapy and electrophyical agents have been used interchangeably to describe the modalities used in physiotherapy. Some suggest that the term electrotherapy implies modalities that use electric current only in treatment.
The following table categorizes various modalities into three groups, i.e. electrical stimulation agents, thermal agents, and non-thermal agents
Electrical stimulation agents and thermal agents are the most used in physiotherapy pain management. However, non-thermal agents, such as pulsed ultrasound, have been reported as having an analgesic effect.
Transcutaneous Electrical Stimulation
The exact mechanism of electrical stimulation’s beneficial effect remains controversial. Electrical stimulation is said directly block pain signals from reaching the brain so that the patient never experiences them. In addition, electrical stimulation has been shown to promote the release of endorphins which are natural painkillers produced by the body.Pain reduction occurs because the applied electrical fields act to close the body's "pain gate mechanism"TENS ( Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is the widely used electical modality for chronic pain.
The video shows how TENS work:
In a Cochrane systematic Review by Johnson et al 2015 based on the six of the 19 trials TENS was found to be better than placebo TENS (delivering no electrical current) at reducing the intensity of acute pain but the reduction in pain was not consistent across all trials. There was an insufficient number patients to make a firm conclusion.More is research is needed to solidfy the evidence.For more information about TENS follow this link:Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Interferential therapy is a more deeper form of electical stimulation and is more comfortable to the patient.The following link provides more information on how it works:Interferential Therapy
In a systematic review by Jorge et al 2010 Interferential current therapy was foundto be more effective in reducing musculoskeletal pain better than a control treatment at discharge and more effective han placebo at a three month follow up
When applied in successive fashion, heat and cold are believed to exert a physiological effect on your body's pain gate mechanism, which temporarily alters pain signals traveling to and from your brain. This temporary reduction in pain is a welcome relief for those suffering long-standing complaints of the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. Cryotherapy (Cold therapy) works for pain by eliciting the body’s “fight or flight” response which stimulates the production of endorphins, thus decreasing the body’s perception of symptomatic pain
Thermal agents can be divided into two i.e
- Heat therapy(themotherapy)
- Cryotherapy(ice/cold therapy)
The description on the physiological effects,effectiveness,mechanism of action and current evidence is found on the following Physiopedia page :
There is moderate evidence that heat therapy reduces pain and disability for patients with back pain that lasts for less than three months. The relief has only been shown to occur for a short time and the effect is relatively small. The addition of exercise to heat wrap therapy appears to provide additional benefit. There is still not enough evidence about the effect of the application of cold for low-back pain of any duration, or for heat for back pain that lasts longer than three months.
Non Thermal agents do not make use of heat/cold to exert a therapeutic effect.Examples of these are shown in the table above.The following links give information about the physiological effect,mechanism of action and evidence in pain a management to the most common non thermal agents :
In a systematic review by Yousefi-Nooraie (2008) which comprised of seven studies with a total of 384 people with non-specific LBP of varying durations. “Three of the studies (168 people) separately showed that Low level laser Therapy (LLLT) was more effective at reducing pain in the short-term (less than three months), and intermediate-term (six months) than sham (fake) laser. However, the strength and number of treatments were varied and the amount of the pain reduction was small. Three studies (102 people) separately reported that LLLT with exercise was not better than exercise alone or exercise plus sham in short-term pain reduction.”
Manual therapy can be broadly defined as
"...the useof hands in a curative and healing manner or a hands-on technique with therapeutic intent..." .It can be divided into two groups i.e Soft tissue techniques and Joint techniques
Soft tissue Techniques
Soft tissue techniques includes the following ( list is not exhaustive):
- Myofascial techniques
- Manual lymph drainage
- Soft tissue mobilisation (Massage)
- Functional mobilistation
- Strain constraint
- Craniosacral therapy
- Active release therapy
Joint techniques includes the following (list not exhaustive):
- Joint Mobilisation
- Muscle energy techniques
- Mulligan Techniques
Manual therapy is frequently used by physiotherapists, to assist with the treatment of pain. The following video is a useful literature review, based on the Cochrane report by Anita Gross in 2015.
Manual Therapy Guidelines
- APA Clinical guide to safe manual therapy practice in the cervical spine 2017
- Neck Pain: Clinical Practice Guidelines
A detailed explaination of Mobilisation and its effect on pain can be read on this Physiopedia page: Maitlands Mobilisations There is no convincing evidence indicating whether mobiisations or manipulation are more effective than each other. However regardless of this there is indication that neither of these therapies should be used in isolation, but as part of a wider treatment plan, mainly involving exercise.
A description of spinal manipulation is given on this Physiopedia page: Spinal Manipulation
There are variable results of research into the effectiveness of manipulation. There is a recent review by Rubinstein et al  that states:
"Spinal Manipulative Therapy (SMT) is no more effective in participants with acute low-back pain than inert interventions, sham SMT, or when added to another intervention. SMT also appears to be no better than other recommended therapies."
However, there is other work such as Bronfort et al that suggests Manipulation is a useful tool in the treatment of Low back pain.
Soft Tissue Massage
Massage and soft tissue treatment, is often employed by physiotherapists to aid pain relief. Details of this can be found on this Physiopedia page: Massage
Patients often provide anectotal reports of its benefits, however recent research is not as supportive of its long-term benefits. Furlan et al states that:
"We have very little confidence that massage is an effective treatment for LBP. Acute, sub-acute and chronic LBP had improvements in pain outcomes with massage only in the short-term follow-up. Functional improvement was observed in participants with sub-acute and chronic LBP when compared with inactive controls, but only for the short-term follow-up"
Acupuncture is widely used by physiotherapist for the management of pain. There is much that we still need to understand about its exact mechanisms, however patients often report anecdotal evidence of its benefits. Take a look at this physiopedia page on Acupuncture.
The introduction of the acupuncture needle produces a numb, aching sensation called "DE QI" that is thought to be esssential for the effectiveness of the treatment. It is thought that this sensation contributes to the activation of the endogenous antinociceptive system. Bowsher(98) and Wang(85)theorised that De Qi is due to the activation of A delta fibres type I and III and the C-fibres releasing opioids in the dorsal horn.
Despite acupuncture being widely used and reported as being helpful, it is disappointing that there is a lack of evidence to support this.
There are other reports that indicate that the evidence base for acupuncture is widening however such as this report by Ernst.
Integration with other pain treatment approaches.
Traditional Physiotherapy pain modalities can be integrated with other pain approaches i.e Pharmacological,Psychological,Exercise and Behavioural.There is little to no evidence on this subjcect more reasearch is warranted.
The articles below give an insight regarding pain treatment approach integration:
For more information about other approaches follow the links below:
Recent Related Research (from Pubmed)
- Key concepts in electrotherapy.http://www.electrotherapy.org/modality/key-concepts-in-electrotherapy.(Accessed 19 March 2016)
- Johnson MI, Paley CA, Howe TE, Sluka KA. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for acute pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 6. Art. No.: CD006142. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD006142.pub3
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snXBG-gIXe8 Accessed 30/04/2016
- French SD, Cameron M, Walker BF, Reggars JW, Esterman AJ. Superficial heat or cold for low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD004750. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004750.pub2
- Yousefi‐Nooraie R, Schonstein E, Heidari K, Rashidian A, Pennick V, Akbari‐Kamrani M, Irani S, Shakiba B, Mortaz Hejri S, Jonaidi AR, Mortaz‐Hedjri S. Low level laser therapy for nonspecific low‐back pain. The Cochrane Library.
- Lederman E. The Science and Practice of Manual therapy. 2nd ed. Elsevier: London. (2005)
- A. R. Gross*w, T. M. Kayz, C. Kennedyz}, D. Gasner}fckLR, L. Hurleyz8, K. Yardley**, L. Hendryww, L. McLaughlin: Clinical practice guideline on the use of manipulation or mobilization in the treatment of adults with mechanical neck disorders: Manual Therapy (2002) 7(4), 193–205
- Rubinstein SM1, Terwee CB, Assendelft WJ, de Boer MR, van Tulder MW.Spinal manipulative therapy for acute low-back pain.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Sep 12;9:
- Bronfort G1, Haas M, Evans RL, Bouter LM.Efficacy of spinal manipulation and mobilization for low back pain and neck pain: a systematic review and best evidence synthesis.Spine J. 2004 May-Jun;4(3):335-56.
- Furlan AD1, Giraldo M, Baskwill A, Irvin E, Imamura M.Massage for low-back pain.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Sep 1;9
- Bowsher(98) The Physiology ofstimulation produced analgesia. Journal of British medical Acupuncture society.IX(2) 58-62
- Wang AA(85) A study on the receptive fields of Acupuncture points and the relationship between characteristics of needling sensation and groups of afferent fibres. Scientific Sinica 28: 963-971
- http://www.electrotherapy.org/assets/Downloads/Key%20Concepts%20in%20Electrotherapy%20March%202014.pdf accessed 2/24/2106