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Electroacupuncture (EA) is a form of acupuncture where an electrical current is passed between two acupuncture needles. In ancient China, acupuncturists manually twisted and pulsed needles to enhance stimulation of the specific points. Today, we are able to utilize electricity to achieve an even stronger effect (and save quite a bit of effort!). 

An EA machine allows the acupuncturist to control the frequency of electrical current and the amplitude of the stimulation. We can deliver either a steady current of electricity, intermittent frequencies, or oscillating frequencies resulting in a dense and disperse sensation. The frequency determines which hormones are released by the body. Low frequencies (in the range of 4-40 Hz) primarily result in the release of endorphins, producing an analgesic effect similar to morphine. Mid-range frequencies around 100 Hz cause the release of dynorphins, which results in a rapid onset of local pain relief. High frequencies (around 200 Hz) mostly causes serotonin release which can alter systemic pain thresholds. 

The amplitude of the electrical current is slowly increased until a response is noted (de-Qi). This could be twitching skin, looking back at the needles, a change in breathing pattern, etc. Length of therapy usually ranges from 10-30 minutes depending on the individual. 

How is this different than a TENS unit? EA combines the known benefits of electrical therapy with strategic stimulation of acupuncture points. Leads can be placed to help open channels and free energy flow throughout the body. EA can deliver a stronger stimulation and therefor extend the effects of acupuncture treatment. It is particularly helpful when treating painful conditions due to the added benefit of hormone release. 

Emily Falk, DVM , CVA