Galvanic stimulation is a form of electrotherapy which involves the use of direct current applied to specific areas of the body. It can be performed in a doctor's office or clinic, and sometimes at home, with the assistance of a home unit prescribed by a doctor. There are some precautions involved with the procedure which make it important to ensure it is performed or supervised by someone who is knowledgeable to avoid causing injury to the patient.
Stimulating the body with direct current appears to alter blood flow, which can influence wound healing time. In addition, it can stimulate the muscles and nerves, many of which are equipped to handle electrical impulses. Thus, galvanic stimulation has a number of potential applications.
In pain relief, applying current can reduce pain and help people manage pain. The amount of current varies, but is generally enough to create only a low-level tingling sensation in the patient. The signals from galvanic stimulation appear to override the pain signals sent by the body, allowing the patient to experience less pain. This technique can be used to manage pain in a variety of settings, and may be combined with other pain management techniques for greater effectiveness.
Another use for galvanic stimulation is in wound healing. Applying current judiciously would appear to promote wound healing by stimulating the flow of blood to the area. Likewise, a practitioner can also change the rate of blood flow to prevent swelling or to manage edema. Galvanic stimulation may be applied in a series of pulses, or in a continuous flow for a set period of time, depending on the patient and the situation.
People who study balance have found that a technique called galvanic vestibular stimulation can be used to apply current to the ear and change someone's sense of balance. This technique can be used as a diagnostic tool to change someone's sense of balance without throwing off the whole body, and it can be used in research. When the current is applied, the patient may feel unstable or imbalanced even if she or she is perfectly balanced.
Using electricity on the body can be dangerous if it is not done properly. It is important to avoid tissue damage, and to reduce the risk of conflicts with medical devices. People who wear pacemakers, for example, may not be good candidates for galvanic stimulation because the current could confuse the implant.