Iontophoresis: The Lifeguard in the Chronic Pain’s Management

Iontophoresis is a method, both diagnostic and therapeutic, that has been used for many decades in medicine. The use of electrotherapy as an adjuvant in the medical field is growing. Over the years we have confirmed firsthand the potential to change the polarity of our cells and lower the threshold of pain, but what is happening in iontophoresis and why is it giving us something to talk about?

This technique is based -originally- on only one thing: to allow the passage of medicines in a specific local area, using galvanic currents. This takes advantage of the use of drug radicals (ions and ionized molecules within drugs) so that, through the transcutaneous pathway, the drug can enter and be distributed in a specific area of our body.


The Mechanism of Action Behind the Electricity

The electrical principle is simple. All ionic substances have an electrical charge, and they normally move towards the opposite charge. In other words, if I have a substance with a negative ion, it will most likely move to where there is a positive ion. Under normal conditions, our own body tries to regulate this electrical balance through the concentrations and gradients of positive ions (such as sodium and potassium) or negative ions (such as chlorine) that exist in our body. In fact, the “electric current” that travels in our body through nerves works that way.

However, iontophoresis takes advantage of this principle to be able to transport medicines (which are charged with some ion, whether positive or negative). The idea is to create a kind of “route” that the ions can follow by using both forces from the same ion (which will repel and serve to form the route) and forces from the opposite ion (destiny).


The Real Effect of the Iontophoresis

The good thing about iontophoresis is that it can regulate the amount of medication that can reach a specific area, which provides quite a few benefits. The treatment of pain, especially in patients with chronic diseases, is a very delicate subject and we must address every possibility we have to feel better or allow our loved ones to feel better.

Through the potentiation of the medications that are applied, resolution and pain control can be easier to achieve. There are several studies that confirm how iontophoresis can increase the effect of multiple drugs, especially some powerful NSAIDs used for pain such as Ketoprofen. This is significant and important, since it can decrease the doses of drug used while improving the sensitivity, effect and efficacy of it.

In addition, let us remember that we are avoiding enough complications, which can affect the quality of life of those who suffer from pain: the huge number of pills, possible gastric ulcers, injections, etc. There are several advantages of iontophoresis over conventional therapy. Some other drugs such as dexamethasone have been tested too and it was demonstrated that the absorption, as well as the effect of the drug on adjacent tissues, was much greater with the use of iontophoresis.


The Science Endorses It: An Effective Treatment

Although the list of diseases on which iontophoresis is effective is quite large, we are going to dedicate ourselves to mention and explain the pathologies where scientists have demonstrated that the use of conventional drugs with iontophoresis significantly increased the patient’s quality of life and pain management. It is worth noting that each one of the uses mentioned are supported by several scientific studies.

Plantar Fasciitis

In the case of steroids, although there is limited evidence, we can say thanks to scientific studies that they are effective in the short term: within 2-3 weeks of application. However, there are several studies showing that the application of dexamethasone in conjunction with iontophoresis may be key to the treatment of plantar fasciitis.

Patellar Tendinitis

The pain of tendinitis is quite characteristic and limiting. Although there is no consensus for conservative treatment of this disease, the authors state that it is best to combine physiotherapy with iontophoresis. The comparisons made by the specialists have shown that the use of electric currents in conjunction with dexamethasone or lidocaine significantly enhances the patient’s health, frankly decreasing pain and inflammation, thus improving mobility.


This is perhaps the disease for which the most scientific evidence exists. Undoubtedly, iontophoresis stands out as a necessary treatment along with the application of NSAIDs not only to improve pain and inflammation, but also the patient’s quality of life. Similarly, there are several studies that certify that the pain of epicondylitis decreases incredibly with the use of corticosteroids or lidocaine combined with iontophoresis. Tests are even done and the application of a drug alone or in combination with iontophoresis is compared, and iontophoresis is always the winner.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The famous writer’s disease, or now known as smartphone disease, is also treatable and the pain it produces is easily controllable with the use of iontophoresis. Several studies are available, however the most significant employ methylprednisolone or local dexamethasone in conjunction with iontophoresis.



Should I Try Iontophoresis?

First, you need to go to your trusted specialist and talk to him or her about this treatment. Depending on the disease you have, he will tell you whether it is appropriate to use this method.

On the other hand, it is important to mention that iontophoresis makes our lives much easier, not only saving us an incredible amount of money on medications, but also improving our quality of life with each session we have. This is a therapeutic method that is not harmful, does not hurt, is not invasive, does not pose any risk to our health and does not merit any extra procedure for its application.

Whenever possible, try iontophoresis. By improving the local application of medications and being much more specific about the area in which the problem is occurring, iontophoresis can improve your pain and your quality of life. This is an ideal technique for chronic patients and long-standing pains.


Dr. Gary C. Anderson M.D is a Surgeon who specializes in the treatment of hyperhidrosis. During the past 20 years, he has performed over 2000 sympathectomy procedures on patients with sweating of the underarms, hands, face, scalp or blushing.