History of Microcurrent Devices in the US

This age-old therapy uses subtle electrical currents to help with various ailments and injuries.

by Deborah Powell 

What is a Microcurrent Therapy Device? 

Since the late 70’s early 1980s, microcurrent instruments have been classified as part of the FDA-approved electrotherapy devices called TENS (transcutaneous electrical neurostimulators). The class is best known for milliampere units called TENS units.

TENS units block pain and relieve the patient for some time, which can replace or reduce the use of pain medications. They are popular, economical pain control devices prescribed mainly by PTs (Physical Therapists) and DCs (Chiropractors). It’s known as a good “alternative” to taking pain medications without all the potential side effects. These TENS units are 1,000th of an ampere. The range of current selections is 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 Therapy Devices in the TENS Class different?

A microcurrent stimulator is a very different animal in principle. It was manufactured to emulate the current ranges slightly above those produced by the body, which operates in the pico or nano range. Microcurrent stimulators range from 10uA to 600 uA (microcurrent), 1/1000th of a milliamp, or 1/1,000,000th of an amp. This is a very tiny amount of current!

The work compiled 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 is called biostimulation or bio-electric therapy because it stimulates 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 regarding electrotherapy’s effects other than as a noninvasive means of pain relief with applications for symptomatic relief of chronic intractable pain. So, with that said, I like to say that the other benefits that seem to occur from the treatments are just “side effects.” There is no regulation for using 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 visited China in 1972. Almost overnight, thousands of doctors became 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 the intense stinging felt. A few Dr.Wings study group members suggested they should find a better way to utilize electrical acupuncture. 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) in his electro-acupuncture devices in 1958.

Practitioners who believed in the Chinese system of 12 Meridians in the body thought that these differentials in readings were related to energy imbalances. An instrument by Dr. Voll called EAV (Electrical Acupuncture by Voll) was used. Dr. Voll also used the system of treating ear points used by ancient Egyptians and the Chinese, which related ear points to specific parts of 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 more straightforward system of 130 points. The first Dr. Voll EAV devices tried encompassing all possible points, approximately 850. Thus, the first diagnostic scales read from 0 to 1000. By the 1970s, most of these devices had gone to a more straightforward system by reducing the scale from 0 to 100.

Dr. Wing used this diagnostic feature, lowering the voltage on his unit and adjusting current levels to the micro amperage range. Then, a more comprehensive 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. Pencil-looking items replaced needles with brass tips and later converted to Q-Tip ends to touch the skin’s surface. He called it the Accu-O Matic, which 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 that they quickly incorporated them into their practices.

Not So Fast

In 1977, due to the Medical Device Act of May 28, 1976, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) informed Dr. Wing he could not use ear point charts to treat because they claimed 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 did not refer to it as an electrical acupuncture device. This new model in 1980 became the My-O-Matic, which added a new waveform 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, several other companies were offering exact internal copies by this time. Examples are Electro-Acuscope/ Myopluse, Alpha-Stim, and many others. Many suffered from the FDA for marketing issues.


Worldwide recognition began when athletes like Carl Lewis, San Fransisco 49’s, Joan Benoit, and New Your Mets began using microcurrent, claiming it as the latest and greatest physical therapy treatment. Many articles, such as Scott pushing a revolutionary physical therapy machine, could be found. (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 Electro-Acuscope label, then switched to Monad (Dr. Wings company). Many chiropractors and athletic trainers maintain that it is still one of the best methods for physical therapy.

Instruments Start Changing

Today, there are many choices. Microcurrent devices are marketed under many guises, such as bone healing devices, facial stimulators, and muscle relaxers, to name a few. Other electrotherapy devices are of all types, with microcurrent being one of the features offered in the unit. These are commonly found in use by Chiropractic and Physical Therapy practices.

With significant changes in the medical and insurance industries, the use of microcurrent has lost ground from its heyday in the mid-80s until the early 90s. Still, those who were witnesses to the results of treatments or those who benefited directly have stayed loyal followers. Today’s use volume of microcurrent units is in the mini-sized units prescribed for at-home use.

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