Electrotherapy & Chiropractic Treatments

Celebrating 125 Years of Chiropractic

In our continuing series, we look at the achievements of the chiropractic field as we celebrate 125 years of chiropractic! In our last article, we looked at the national recognition of chiropractic medicine as well as the introduction of sports medicine specialties in chiropractic. As we continue through the decades, in this article we will focus on the introduction of electrotherapy to chiropractic from 1970–1980. 

Modern-Day Electrotherapy

While electrotherapy in some form can be traced back to as early as ancient Rome, for chiropractic, modern-day electrotherapy can be traced to 1970 with the first EMS (electric muscle stimulation) device manufactured in Chicago, Illinois. Then in 1974, the first modern, wearable TENS unit was patented in the U.S. With the development of these devices, electrotherapy entered into chiropractic medicine as a natural extension to pain management and treatment options.

Overview on EMS

Electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) uses electric impulses to cause muscle contractions, typically performed at sites of muscle pain. This stimulation allows for multiple applications, including rehabilitation, strength training, and as a post-recovery tool. The electric impulses are delivered by electrodes placed on the skin near the target muscles. 


Unlike its counterpart transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), EMS provides a stronger electric impulse to cause muscles to contract. These more intense impulses are what can help improve the muscle’s strength, especially when the muscle is contracted at the same time, such as during physical therapy. TENS is more typically used for chronic pain management as a way to reduce pain signals to the brain.1

EMS and Chiropractic 

EMS is a likely addition to any chiropractic treatment due to its ability to not only contract muscles but also its ability to encourage “the body to release pain-killing chemicals, such as opiates and endorphins, and [block] pain signals from being transmitted to the brains.”2 Depending on the needs of a patient, electrotherapy can be used in any number of treatments, such as a form of pre-adjustment warm up for patients who are stiff or injured and require a period to warm up their muscles before manual adjustments can be attempted. Another usage is after manipulation as a post-adjustment recovery for those whose adjustment was more rigorous and pain management is ideal. Because EMS is delivered through electric impulses, these impulses can not only help with pain but also can help enhance a patient’s range of motion, which is another added benefit for patients with reduced mobility.3

Looking Ahead

As we continue our deep dive into the innovations of chiropractic over the past 125 years, next month we will focus on 1980–1990, more specifically Chiropractic Founder’s Day.

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1Roland, James. “E-Stim: What It Is, How It Works, and Why It May Help You.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 29 July 2019, www.healthline.com/health/pain-relief/e-stim#types.

2“Carson Chiropractic.” Chiropractor in Oswego, IL, 2020, www.carsonchiropractic.com/library/2618/Electrotherapy.html.

3“Understanding Electrotherapy from Chiropractors and How It Can Aid You.” Understanding Electrotherapy from Chiropractors and How It Can Aid You: Chiropractic Memphis Health & Wellness: Chiropractors, 2020, www.chiropractic-memphis.com/blog/understanding-electrotherapy-from-chiropractors-and-how-it-can-aid-you.

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