This ages-old therapy uses subtle electrical current to help with a wide variety of ailments and injuries.
Article by Deborah Powell, written in 2005
What is a Microcurrent unit?
Since the early 1980s, microcurrent instruments have been classified as part of the FDA-approved electrotherapy devices called TENS (transcutaneous electrical neuro stimulators). The class is best known for milliampere units called TENS units.
TENS units are used to block pain and give the patient relief for a period of time, which can replace or reduce the use of pain medications. They are popular, economical pain control devices prescribed mostly by PT’s (Physical Therapists) and DC’s (Chiropractors). It’s known as a good “alternative” to taking pain medications without all the potential side effects. These TENS unit are 1,000th of an ampere. The range of current selections are usually 0 – 8 milliamps (mA). In the higher ranges a slight stinging may be felt. (Note: An automobile takes about 600 amps to start)
How are Microcurrent units in the TENS Class are different?
A microcurrent stimulator is a very different animal in principal. They were manufactured to emulate the ranges of current slightly above those produced by the body, which operate in the pico or nano range. Microcurrent stimulators range is 10uA to 600 uA (microcurrent) or 1/1000th of a milliamp, or 1/1,000,000th of an amp. This is a very tiny amount of current!
The work complied in the book The Body Electric, by Robert O. Becker M.D., is a compilation of thirty years of his work. Dr. Becker, an orthopedic surgeon turned researcher, experimented on salamander and frog regeneration and his work proved electricity triggered healing. Microampere stimulation has been called biostimulation or bio electric therapy because of its ability to stimulate cellular physiology and growth processes. In contrast, current used above the minute levels was shown to inhibit or retard the healing process.
The FDA and Microcurrent Instruments
The FDA has not allowed medical claims to the effects other than as a non invasive means of pain relief with applications for symptomatic relief of chronic intractable pain. So, with that said I like to say, the other benefits that seem to occur from the treatments are just “side effects.” There is no regulation for the use of electrotherapy on animals and products marketed for animal use do not require FDA approval.
History of the Microcurrent Instrument
Thomas W. Wing. D.C., N.D., LAc. a fifth generation Chinese Doctor is credited with introducing a microcurrent instrument in the late 1970’s. According to Dr. Wing the doors opened to acupuncture after President Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Almost overnight thousands of doctors were interested in all forms of acupuncture.
One of these methods was adding current to the acupuncture needles to create a more potent application. This method was seldom comfortable because of intense stinging felt. A few members of Dr.Wings study group suggested they should find a better way to utilize electrical acupuncture methods. Dr. Wing had a little background in electronics and felt competent to take on the challenge. Diagnostics called galvanic skin differentials are accredited to Dr. Reinhold Voll a West German physician. He introduced GSR (galvanic skin response) as a feature in his electro-acupuncture devices in 1958.
Practitioners believing in the Chinese system of 12 Meridians in the body believed that these differentials in readings related to energy imbalances. Using an instrument by Dr. Voll became referred to as EAV (Electrical Acupuncture by Voll). Dr. Voll also used the system of treating ear points used by ancient Egyptians and the Chinese which related ear points to specific parts in the body and organs. New ear charts were developed by a French physician, Dr. Paul Nogier in 1951 along with experimentation with new frequencies for a form of electrical ear acupuncture called Auriculotherapy.
Dr. Nogier’s ear charts reflect over 200 points and the Chinese ear charts use a simpler system of 130 points. The first Dr. Voll EAV devices tried encompassing all possible points which was approximately 850, thus the first diagnostic scales read from 0-1000. By the 70’s most of these devices went to a simpler system by reducing the scale from 0-100.
Dr. Wing used this type of diagnostic feature along with lowering the voltage on his unit and current levels were adjusted to the micro amperage range. Then a wider range of very low frequencies was added. In 1975 Dr. Wing introduced what was known as the first comfortable US made non-needle acupuncture (Surface Electrical Acupuncture) instrument with diagnostics. Needles were replaced by pencil looking items with brass tips and later converted to Q-Tip ends to just touch the surface of the skin. He called it the Accu-O Matic this stood for Accurate and Automatic.
Dr. Wings instruments created quite a stir. Physicians flocked to learn about this method and were so impressed with the results they were quick to incorporate them in their practices.
Not So Fast
In 1977 as a result of the Medical device act of May 28, 1976 FDA (Food and Drug Administration) informed Dr. Wing he could not use ear point charts to treat from because they were claiming to cure conditions. In 1978 FDA agents visited again and said acupuncture had not been “proven safe and effective” in the experimental use period of one year.
The FDA told Dr. Wing he could reapply with his instrument under the 1976 Medical Device and Cosmetology Act if he took the reading portion of the unit and not refer to it as an electrical acupuncture device. This new model in 1980 became the My-O-Matic which added a new wave form and was found beneficial in the treatments of muscles to lengthen, shorten and strengthen. It was approved as a muscle stimulator. It also found new life in the Cosmetology industry for facial toning and wrinkle reduction. Also, by this time there were several other companies offering exact internal copies. For example: Accuscope/ Myopluse, Alpha Stim and many others. All suffered from pressures from the FDA for marketing issues. Many of these early companies did not survive.
World wide recognition began when athletes like Carl Lewis, San Fransisco 49’s, Joan Benoit, New Your Mets, began using micro current claiming it as the latest and greatest of physical therapy treatments. Many articles could be found like; Scott pushes revolutionary physical-therapy machine. (USA Today 87) “It’s not a cure-all. It doesn’t replace coaching or hard work. But it is the best form of physical therapy that’s ever been developed” (Jack Scott Phd)
Note: Jack Scott first represented the Accuscope label then switched to Monad (Dr. Wings company). Many chiropractors and athletic trainers maintain it is still today one of the best methods for physical therapy.
Instruments Start Changing
Today there is a multitude of choices. Microcurrent devices are being marketed under many guises such as bone healing devices, facial stimulators, and muscle relaxers to name a few. Other electrotherapy devices are all one types with micro current being one of the features offered on the unit. These are commonly found in use by Chiropractic and Physical Therapy practices.
With major changes with the medical and insurance industries the use of micro current has lost ground since it’s hey day of the mid 80’s until the early 90’s but those that were witnesses to the results of treatments or those you have benefited directly have stayed loyal followers. The volume of use of micro current units today are in the mini sized units prescribed for at home use.
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