What is diathermy?
Diathermy is the use of electromagnetic energy to produce heat within the tissue. The electromagnetic energy is able to heat tissue at a depth of 3-5 centimeters below the surface of the skin without overheating the skin or subcutaneous tissues. Diathermy is performed with a specialized machine and electromagnetic coils that direct the electromagnetic energy down into the tissue.
Indications for use of diathermy.
The most commonly used applications for diathermy include decreasing joint stiffness, accelerating healing, controlling pain, controlling edema, healing wounds, healing bone, and healing nerves. Any person with pain, edema, decreased range of motion, nerve injury, or bone injury may benefit from diathermy.
Rationale for use of diathermy.
Diathermy has two therapeutic effects, and each effect produces certain results. These effects are categorized as thermal and non-thermal. The thermal effects result from the electrical current flowing through the treatment area causing an oscillating of charged particles and increasing the tissue temperature. Because the current flows through the treatment area, it is able to produce a deeper heat than a hot pack or heating pad would.
The non-thermal effects result from the same electrical current as the thermal effects, but with the non-thermal, the current is at a low intensity and a pulsed duration. This pulsed duration does not allow the heating of the tissue, but it does increase blood flow to the area with increased oxygen and nutrient availability. It also increases cell growth and division, along with changes in the cell membrane to increase healing potential.
How is diathermy used?
Diathermy is used by a physical therapist in conjunction with a complete treatment program. The physical therapist will position a patient in an appropriate position and will perform the treatment to the affected area for an appropriate amount of time and at an appropriate setting. The settings will be based on what the therapist is trying to achieve with the treatment, the area being treated, and the desired effect. The patient will not be allowed to wear any jewelry, have any metal in the treatment area, and cannot be performed on or around a person that has an implanted electronic device. The patient will have to be placed on a chair or table that is made of wood.
Benefits of diathermy.
When combined with other physical therapy treatment procedures, diathermy allows for increased range of motion with increased tissue elasticity. With the increased elasticity and improved blood flow, a person will have decreased pain while being able to move further with fewer symptoms. Diathermy also increases cell reproduction and healing, which will reduce inflammation and edema that is present during an injury. Overall, diathermy is able to heat deeper tissues and cover a larger area than other thermal modalities. Due to many contradictions to its use and the portability of other therapeutic modalities, diathermy is not widely used in clinics.
Expected outcomes with the use of diathermy.
A person can expect to have a short-term increase in range of motion and a short-term decrease in pain and inflammation. With other physical therapy treatment procedures, these short-term changes can become long-term changes. There is not a set number of treatments that can be performed with diathermy and as long as a person is seeing benefit, the diathermy can continued to be performed. Most people will experience some type of benefit within six treatments of diathermy and other combined treatment procedures. With the little use of diathermy in clinics, a person probably will have no or little experience with this modality.