Iontophoresis is a non-invasive and painless method of delivering anti-inflammatory medications deeper into the body's issues. Using a low-level electrical current applied to the skin though using a electrode, iontophoresis delivers medication molecules through the skin and into underlying tissue.

Iontophoresis for transdermal drug delivery has been successfully utilized by medical professionals for decades and its use continues to increase dramatically because of its advantages.

Advantages of Iontophoresis

Virtually painless when properly applied
Provides an alternative to injections
Reduced risk of infection due to non-invasive nature of treatment
Medications delivered directly to the treatment site
Minimizes potential for tissue trauma from an injection
Treatments are completed in minutes

How Does Iontophoresis Work?

You may need a review of high school chemistry and physics to understand how iontophoresis works. In general molecules have either a positive, negative, or neutral charge. Molecules with ionic charges that are alike will repel one another, while ions that are oppositely charged will be attracted to one another.

So if you have a medicine in a solution that is negatively charged and you apply a negative electrical charge to it, the medicine in solution will be pushed away, or repelled, from the negative electricity. When using iontophoresis, your physical therapist is using electricity to push medicine into your injured tissues.

The medication used in iontophoresis is ionically charged. So if your physical therapist decides to introduce medication into your injured tissues via iontophoresis and that medication is negatively charged, he or she will use a negative current to drive that medication into your body.

Some of the Common Uses for Iontophoresis

  • Decrease inflammation
  • Decrease pain
  • Decrease muscle spasm
  • Decrease swelling and edema
  • Reduce calcium deposits in the body
  • Manage scar tissue

Your physical therapist will work with you to decide on the treatment goals and the rationale for using iontophoresis.

What Does Iontophoresis Feel Like?

When your physical therapist applies iontophoresis to your body, he or she will place an electrode onto your skin that is connected to an electrical stimulation device. The electrode will look like a large, rubbery sticker connected to wires. When the electrical current is turned on, you will likely feel a slight tingling sensation. Sometimes the stimulation feels like a tiny bug bite. If you are uncomfortable during the iontophoresis treatment, notify your physical therapist and adjustments can be made.

A typical iontophoresis treatment takes 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the amount of medication that your physical therapist is administering to you. When your iontophoresis treatment is completed, your physical therapist will remove the electrodes and inspect your skin. Don't be surprised if your skin is pink or blotchy where the medication electrode was placed; this is common after iontophoresis.

Once you receive your iontophoresis treatment, your physical therapist will give you specific instructions. Many times, withholding ice or heat treatments after iontophoresis is recommended since these treatments alter circulation to the injured area. This altered circulation might "wash away" the medication that was just introduced to your body. If you have any questions about what to do after iontophoresis, be sure to ask your physical therapist.

Iontophoresis and Physical Therapy

At Farmington Valley Physical Therapy, we use Dexamethasone, a corticosteroid and anti-inflammatory medication during iontophoresis to help treat a variety of conditions, such as tendonitis and bursitis.

Remember that iontophoresis is a passive treatment meaning it does not require any participation on the part of the patient. Most successful physical therapy programs require you to be actively involved in your care. Active therapeutic exercises are often the most important component of your rehabilitation to improve strength and to address maladaptive and efficient movement patterns..