Impedance-Controlled Microcurrent Therapy for Managing Radiation-Induced Fibrosis in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

Impedance-Controlled Microcurrent Therapy for Managing Radiation-Induced Fibrosis in Head and Neck Cancer Patients

ARLENE J. LENNOX, PH.D.,*† JEFFREY P. SHAFER, M.D.,† MADELINE HATCHER, R.N.,† JANICE BEIL, R.N.,† AND SANDRA J. FUNDER, R.N

Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia, IL; †
Provena Midwest Institute for Neutron Therapy at Fermilab, Batavia, IL;

S. J. Funder & Associates, Crown Point, IN

Purpose: To evaluate the effectiveness of impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for managing treatment
sequelae in head-and-neck cancer patients.
Methods and Materials: Between January 1998 and June 1999, 26 patients who were experiencing late effects of
radiotherapy were treated b.i.d. with impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for 1 week. Objective range of-motion measurements were made for cervical rotation, extension/flexion, and lateral flexion before therapy, at
the end of each treatment day, and monthly for 3 months. In addition, each patient’s subjective complaints were
tabulated before treatment and reevaluated at the last follow-up visit. No additional physical therapy or electrical
stimulation was permitted during the follow-up period.
Results: At the end of the course of microcurrent therapy, 92% of the 26 patients exhibited improved cervical
rotation, 85% had improved cervical extension/flexion, and 81% had improved cervical lateral flexion. Twenty two patients returned for the 3-month follow-up visit. Of these, 91% had maintained a cervical rotation range
of motion greater than their pretherapy measurements. Eighty-two percent maintained improved cervical
extension/flexion and 77% maintained improved lateral flexion. When the range-of-motion measurements were
stratified by pretreatment severity (severe, moderate, mild, or asymptomatic), the degree of improvement directly
correlated with the severity. Thus, patients who had more severe initial symptoms experienced a higher
percentage of improvement than did those with milder symptoms. For these patients, the cervical rotation range
of motion changed from a baseline of 59°  12° to 83°  14° at 3 months; flexion/extension improved from 47°
 10° to 73°  13°; and lateral flexion went from 31°  7° to 48°  9°. Some patients also reported symptom
improvement for tongue mobility, facial asymmetry, xerostomia, cervical/facial muscle spasms, trismus, and soft
tissue tenderness. No adverse effects were observed.
Conclusion: Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy shows promise for remediation of range-of-motion
limitations arising as late effects of radiotherapy for head-and-neck cancer. Additional studies are needed to
validate these preliminary results and to optimize the microcurrent treatment protocol, particularly with respect
to treatment schedules and combining microcurrent therapy with physical and/or drug therapy. © 2002
Elsevier Science Inc.
Microcurrent therapy, Neutrons, Radiation, Side effects, Head-and-neck cancer.
INTRODUCTION
As aggressive therapy with combination surgery, chem
studies (2–4) from the 1980s suggesting that microcurrent
therapy was effective for treating RT sequelae, but these
studies lacked adequate statistics and did not include follow-up information on the long-term effectiveness. The
reports also lacked information on the specific treatment
instruments and precise treatment protocols used. This pilot
study was designed to determine whether the suggested
efficacy would be observed in a series of patients treated
using a well-specified protocol.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
Twenty-six head-and-neck cancer patients who had completed RT and were experiencing tissue discomfort or limitations caused by fibrosis participated in the study. Because
this was a pilot study to determine the efficacy of a new use
of a standard therapeutic technique, it was important that all
participants have quantifiable symptoms with no expectation of resolution without intervention. Hence, patients experiencing documented progressive fibrosis were targeted.
The staff made objective range-of-motion measurements,
and subjective complaints were solicited from the patients.
The procedure and its possible lack of benefit were explained to the patients before they signed a document indicating informed consent. The Provena Saint Joseph Hospital
Institutional Review Board approved the protocol.
Selection of study subjects
Eligible patients had finished either photon or neutron
therapy at least 6 months before entering the study and had
no evidence of disease. They had mental alertness sufficient
to understand, evaluate, and consent to the protocol, which
included the availability for b.i.d. treatments daily for 1
week and the ability to return for scheduled follow-up visits.
Exclusion criteria included the use of a pacemaker, use of
calcium-channel blocker drugs, pregnancy, and a life expectancy of 6 months. Individuals who were unable to
abstain from physical therapy to the affected area, routine
use of antiinflammatory steroids, or nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs during the treatment and follow-up period
were also excluded. Table 1 summarizes the baseline characteristics of the participants.
Choice of microcurrent technique and schedule
The use of electrical stimulation for pain relief is well
established in physical therapy centers. Many commercial
electrical stimulation devices are available, most of which
are commonly referred to as transcutaneous electrical nerve
stimulation units. Typical units emit electrical pulses with
alternating positive and negative polarities in the 10–500-
kHz range and currents in the milliampere range. Microcurrent units are often incorrectly referred to as transcutaneous
electrical nerve stimulation units, but microcurrent units
deliver lower currents (microampere range) and lower frequencies (0.5 to several hundred hertz). In general, units
using higher current and frequencies are more effective at
blocking acute pain, but the pain relief is not lasting. Microcurrent therapy using lower frequencies requires longer
treatment times to achieve pain relief, but the relief can
endure for many hours after the treatment has terminated
(5). Because the patients targeted for this study were experiencing chronic rather than acute symptoms, a microcurrent
device was selected.
The costs of microcurrent devices range from several
hundred to thousands of dollars. Some fraction of the cost is
related to packaging, but most of it is associated with the
degree of sophistication of the electronic circuits. It is well
known that the body’s impedance changes when electrical
current passes through it. The more sophisticated devices
contain circuitry that monitors impedance and adjusts the
output current to compensate for changes. These devices
also deliver fast rise time pulses that can affect voltagesensitive sodium and calcium ion channels (6). The ElectroMyopulse and Electro-Acuscope instruments (Biomedical
Design Instruments, Burbank, CA) chosen for this study
deliver impedance-controlled, fast rise time pulses. Their
retail price is about $8500 each. Electrotherapy treatments
are reimbursable under established billing codes. Typical
charges to a patient are $40–50 per 15-min treatment. However, patients in this study were not charged for the therapy.
Physical therapists use microcurrent therapy in a variety
of ways, often in combination with massage, heat, and
physical manipulation. Treatment schedules are not standardized, but are driven by insurance payment schedules
and the patients’ personal schedules. The treatment schedule for this study was established after informal discussions
with a few physical therapists who had extensive experience
using the Electro-Myopulse and Electro-Acuscope instruments for treating a variety of physical complaints. All
agreed that noticeable improvement could be obtained most
quickly if the patient were treated b.i.d. for 3 days. All
agreed that lasting improvement tended to require several
treatments per month for about 6 months and that some
conditions could resolve completely if this long-term treatment schedule were followed, particularly if therapy started
soon after the injury or symptom occurred. Given the adTable 1. Baseline characteristics of 26 patients in the pilot study
Fast
neutrons Photons
Neutrons and
photons
Gender (n)
Male 3 9 2
Female 5 4 3
Race (n)
White 8 13 3
Black 0 0 2
Age (y) 52 15 56 9.3 63 15
Radiation dose (Gy) 20.8 0.8 64 8.3 20.3 0.1 (n)
36 25 ()
Time from RT to start
of therapy (mo)
67 61 30 27 42 38
Data presented as the average standard deviation, unless
otherwise noted.
Abbreviations: RT radiotherapy; n neutrons;  photons.
24 I. J. Radiation Oncology ● Biology ● Physics Volume 54, Number 1, 2002
vanced fibrosis of many of the study patients, it was decided
to administer microcurrent treatments b.i.d. for 5 days and
simply observe whether this therapy had any effect on
severely fibrotic tissue. Any observed improvements were
not expected to be lasting, because no follow-up treatments
at more spread-out intervals were scheduled. Until measurable evidence of the treatment’s effectiveness was observed,
it did not seem reasonable to commit resources to a longterm treatment schedule.
Objective measurement techniques
As shown in Fig. 1, cervical rotation, extension/flexion,
and lateral flexion were measured using two large protractors mounted in perpendicular planes. An elastic band with
Velcro attachments was secured to the patient’s head to
permit the placement of a small laser that pointed to degree
markings on circular scales used to measure range of motion
in degrees. This laser was positioned relative to the points
about which the patient’s head pivots during rotation, exFig. 1. Patient positioned at vertex of two mutually perpendicular protractors used to measure cervical range of motion.
Fig. 2. Laser affixed to the patient’s head measures left–right cervical rotation.
Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for RT-induced fibrosis in head-and-neck cancer ● A. J. LENNOX et al. 25
tension/flexion, and lateral flexion. Stationary lasers were
used to position the patient so that the movable laser was on
a line that intersected the vertex of the large protractors.
Figures 2 through 4 illustrate the setup for each angular
measurement. Day-to-day patient positioning accuracy was
0.25 cm, which is small compared with the protractors’
112-cm radius. This choice of scale minimized the effect of
day-to-day errors in positioning the patient’s center of rotation at the vertex of the scale.
For each patient, the pretreatment data were used to
classify each range of motion as asymptomatic or mildly,
moderately, or severely limiting. If a patient’s range was
within 90% of the optimal range for a healthy young person,
that patient was classified as asymptomatic for that measurement. Ranges between 70% and 90% of optimum were
designated mildly limiting, and those of 50–70% were
moderately limiting. Ranges 50% of optimum were considered severely limiting. By assigning a value of 0 to
Fig. 3. Cervical extension/flexion measured using a laser affixed to the side of the head.
Fig. 4. Cervical lateral flexion measured using a laser affixed to the forehead.
26 I. J. Radiation Oncology ● Biology ● Physics Volume 54, Number 1, 2002
Table 2. Patient characteristics listed in order of greatest to least severe radiation-induced range-of-motion limitations before
impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy
Severity RT site Dose (Gy) Radiation Pathologic features Stage Other therapy
9 Left thyroid
Bilateral neck
Supraclavicular nodes
66
66
  e
  e
Medullary carcinoma T4N1bM0/Stage 3 Surgery
9 Oropharynx 63   e Squamous cell T1N2bM0 Surgery
Bilateral neck
Supraclavicular nodes
50.4   e
9 Left tonsil
Bilateral neck
Supraclavicular nodes
74.4*
50.4
  e Squamous cell T3N2bM0 Surgery
Chemotherapy
8 Nasopharynx 22 n Squamous cell T2N2aM0/Stage 4
Supraclavicular nodes 14
7 Maxillary sinus 20.4 n Adenoid cystic T4NxM0 Surgery
6 Supraglottic larynx 75*   e Squamous cell T2N2bM0/Stage 4 Chemotherapy
Supraclavicular nodes 51
6 Nasopharynx
Bilateral neck
Supraclavicular nodes
70
50
 Squamous cell T2NbM0/Stage 4 Chemotherapy
Surgery
6 Right neck
Right supraclavicular
nodes
58.7
45
 Colloidal carcinoma Metastatic from
breast
Chemotherapy
6 Nasopharynx and
neck
Periaortic nodes
45  Malignant lymphoma Recurrent/Stage 4 Chemotherapy
Surgery
6 Larynx 60.4   e Squamous cell T4N0M0 Surgery
Bilateral neck 50.4
5 Right submaxillary 20.4 n Adenoid cystic Stage 1 Surgery
5 Left parotid 22 n Adenoid cystic T2N0M0/Stage 1 Surgery
4 Left parotid 59.2  Melanoma Metastatic from
cheek
Surgery
4 Left parotid 30  Benign mixed Recurrent Surgery
20.4 n
3 Right nasal ala 59.5   e Squamous cell Recurrent Surgery
Bilateral neck
Supraclavicular nodes 50.4 
3 Tongue 60  Keratinizing T2N1Mx Surgery
Left neck 62.8   e Squamous cell
3 Base of tongue 20 n Adenoid cystic T1N0M0 Surgery
3 Right submandibular 7.2  Adenoid cystic T1N0Mx/Stage 1 Surgery
20.4 n
Right supraclavicular
nodes
14.0 n
3 Left parotid 19  Mucoepidermoid T1N2bM0 Surgery
20.1 n
Supraclavicular nodes 14 n
3 Right tonsil 74.4*   e Squamous cell T3N1M0 Surgery
2 Left parotid 20.8 n Acinic cell Recurrent Surgery
Left supraclavicular
nodes
14.3 n
2 Right tonsil 61   e Squamous cell T1N2bM0/Stage 4 Surgery
Bilateral neck
Supraclavicular nodes
64
46
  e

2 Left parotid 60  Adenoid cystic Recurrent Surgery
20.4 n
1 Base of tongue 20.4 n Mucoepidermoid T3NxM0
1 Base of tongue 20.4 n Adenoid cystic T4N1M0
0 Left parotid 65  Adenoid cystic Recurrent Surgery
20.4 n
Abbreviations: RT radiotherapy;  photons; e electrons; n neutrons.
* b.i.d. treatment.
Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for RT-induced fibrosis in head-and-neck cancer ● A. J. LENNOX et al. 27
asymptomatic, 1 to mild, 2 to moderate, and 3 to severe, for
each of the three range-of-motion measurements, it was
possible to assign a number between 0 and 9 to each patient,
with 0 corresponding to no practical limitations and 9 corresponding to significant limitations in all three measurements. Using these designations, the average pretreatment
severity for the 13 patients treated with photons only was
5.6 2.4. For 8 patients receiving only fast neutrons, it was
4.0 2.7, and for 5 patients who were treated with neutrons
after photon therapy, it was 2.4 1.5. The 3 patients who
had a severity of 9 had received electrons in addition to
photons. Table 2 lists all 26 cases in order of severity, along
with information about the treatment site, tumor pathologic
features, stage, type of radiation, and doses.
Treatment protocol
Alternating microampere current at frequencies ranging
from 0.5 to 100 Hz was directed through the fibrotic area
using one stationary and one moveable electrode. The current source was an Electro-Myopulse 75F instrument in
mode 1 operated at the auto setting. The current was set as
high as the patient could tolerate, typically at the maximal
instrument setting of 600 A. Good electrical conductivity
was obtained using CEL-0071 Conductive Electrolyte.
Fig. 5. Electrotherapy treatment technique. Patient’s hands rest on large metal plates while impedance-controlled
microcurrent therapy is delivered using a metal roller.
28 I. J. Radiation Oncology ● Biology ● Physics Volume 54, Number 1, 2002
During the first 20 min of each treatment session, the
fixed electrode was taped to the shoulder blade closest to the
affected tissue. This electrode was a flat, square, conducting
plate (area 5  5 cm2
). The movable electrode was a
cylindrical roller, 7.6 cm in diameter and 7.6 cm long. The
roller was repeatedly moved slowly from a region of healthy
tissue just outside the fibrotic area into and across the region
of scar tissue. For each patient, all the scar tissue related to
RT was treated in this manner. Thus, if a supraclavicular RT
field had been given in addition to the primary treatment
fields, the supraclavicular area was included in the microcurrent treatment area.
During the next 10 min, the current source was the ElectroAcuscope 80L in mode 1 with settings of 10 Hz and 600 A.
The single fixed electrode was replaced by two rectangular
plates, each having an area of 10  27.2 cm2
, and connected
to the current source through a preamplifier. The patient held
one hand on each plate while the therapist treated the fibrotic
area with the roller in the manner described above. Figure 5
shows the treatment technique. The session ended with a 1-min
treatment using CRM-XR46 After Treatment Cream instead of
the CEL-0071 Conductive Gel.
Patients were treated b.i.d., with a 4–5-h interval between
treatment sessions. A total of 10 treatments was given
during a 5-day period. Subjective symptoms were recorded
and range-of-motion measurements made before the first
treatment and at the end of each treatment day. Follow-up
measurements and subjective assessments were made at
1-month intervals for a total of 3 months. No additional
microcurrent or physical therapy was permitted until the end
of the 3-month follow-up period.
RESULTS
Objective range-of-motion measurements
Tables 3 through 5 show the average pretreatment, posttreatment, and 3-month follow-up ranges for cervical rotation, extension/flexion, and lateral flexion measurements
stratified by pretreatment severity and type of radiation
given. For each type of motion, the degree of improvement
was directly proportional to the pretreatment severity. Despite our expectations that any improvement observed at the
end of the treatment week would be lost at the 3-month
follow-up visit, most patients had better measurements at 3
months than they did before treatment. At the 3-month
follow-up visit, the average severity score for the photononly patients was 3.9 2.3; for the neutron-only patients, it
was 1.2 1.2; and for the neutron-following-photon paTable 3. Cervical rotation, stratified by severity of limitation, before, at the end, and 3 months after treatment
Patients (n)
Pretreatment
rating
Pretreatment
range (°)
Posttreatment
range (°)
Change from
pretreatment
range (%)
3-mo follow-up
range (°)
Change from
pretreatment
Neutrons Photons Both range (%)
1, 0 3, 3 — Severe 59 19
(n 4)
97 30
(n 4)
64 83 14
(n 3)
41
2, 2 6, 5 2, 1 Moderate 101 10
(n 10)
131 15
(n 10)
30 119 9
(n 8)
18
4, 4 4, 4 2, 1 Mild 131 8
(n 10)
153 16
(n 10)
17 140 13
(n 9)
7
1, 1 — 1, 1 Asymptomatic 164 1
(n 2)
165 9
(n 2)
1 154 22
(n 2)
6
Data presented as the average standard deviation, unless otherwise noted.
Optimal range-of-motion for a healthy young person is 170°. First 3 columns show type of radiation received by 26 patients who started
the study, followed by the number of patients (total 22) who returned for the 3-month follow-up.
Table 4. Cervical extension/flexion, stratified by severity of limitation, before, at the end, and 3 months after treatment
Patients (n)
Pretreatment
rating
Pretreatment
range (°)
Posttreatment
range (°)
Change from
pretreatment
range (%)
3-mo follow-up
range (°)
Change from
pretreatment
Neutrons Photons Both range (%)
— 3, 3 — Severe 47 10
(n 3)
70 12
(n 3)
49 73 13
(n 3)
55
2, 1 3, 3 — Moderate 73 9
(n 5)
106 9
(n 5)
45 107 20
(n 4)
47
4, 4 5, 4 2, 1 Mild 96 7
(n 11)
114 15
(n 11)
19 110 9
(n 9)
15
2, 2 2, 2 3, 2 Asymptomatic 117 6
(n 7)
126 15
(n 7)
8 117 14
(n 6)
0
Data presented as the average standard deviation, unless otherwise noted.
Optimal range-of-motion for a healthy young person is 120°. First 3 columns show type of radiation received by the 26 patients who
started the study, followed by the number of patients (total 22) who returned for the 3-month follow-up.
Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for RT-induced fibrosis in head-and-neck cancer ● A. J. LENNOX et al. 29
tients, it was 2.0 1.0. No adverse side effects were
observed. All the patients completed the treatments.
Cervical rotation
The range of right/left cervical rotation was compared with
the nominal value of 170°, which is considered normal for a
healthy, young individual (7). Of the 26 patients, 24 (92%)
exhibited improved cervical rotation at the end of microcurrent
therapy. Of the 22 who returned for the 3-month follow-up
visit, 3 experienced continued improvement, and 17 had lost
some of their range of motion, although their average mobility
was somewhat better than it had been before microcurrent
therapy. One patient in the mildly limited category experienced
no improvement and one asymptomatic patient had measurements in the mildly limited category at the 3-month follow-up
examination. Figure 6 illustrates the improvement for the 3
patients who started with severe limitations and completed all
three follow-up visits on schedule.
Cervical extension/flexion
The range of cervical extension/flexion was compared
with the nominal value of 120°, considered normal for a
Table 5. Cervical lateral flexion, stratified by severity of limitation, before, at the end, and 3 months after treatment.
Patients (n) Pretreatment
rating
Pretreatment
range (°)
Posttreatment
range (°)
Change from
pretreatment
range (%)
3-mo
follow-up
range (°)
Change from
pretreatment
Neutrons Photons Both range (%)
1, 0 5, 4 — Severe 31 7 51 20 65 48 9 55
(n 6) (n 6) (n 4)
2, 2 4, 4 1, 1 Moderate 53 5 76 10 43 79 16 49
(n 7) (n 7) (n 7)
3, 3 4, 4 1, 1 Mild 69 5 82 17 19 75 12 9
(n 8) (n 8) (n 8)
2, 2 — 3, 1 Asymptomatic 92 22 102 25 11 103 30 12
(n 5) (n 5) (n 5)
Data presented as the average standard deviation, unless otherwise noted.
Optimal range of motion for a healthy young person is 90°. First three columns show type of radiation received by the 26 patients who
started the study, followed by the number of patients (total 22) who returned for the 3-month follow-up.
Fig. 6. Range of cervical rotation for 3 patients initially experiencing seve
Fig. 7. Range of cervical extension/flexion for 3 patients initially experiencing severe range-of-motion limitation. No
microcurrent therapy was given after the first week of treatment.
Fig. 8. Range of cervical lateral flexion for 4 patients initially experiencing severe range-of-motion limitation. No
microcurrent therapy was given after the first week of treatment.
Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for RT-induced fibrosis in head-and-neck cancer ● A. J. LENNOX et al. 31
healthy, young individual (7). Of the 26 patients, 22 (85%)
exhibited improved extension/flexion at the end of microcurrent therapy. Of the 22 who returned for the 3-month
follow-up visit, 8 maintained or improved their end-oftreatment status. Ten of the 22 patients lost some range of
motion but their mobility was still better than it had been
before microcurrent therapy. The 4 patients who experienced no long-term improvement were already functioning
within 80–90% of the normal range. Figure 7 illustrates the
improvements for the 3 patients initially classified as most
severely limited in extension/flexion.
Cervical lateral flexion
The range of cervical right/left lateral flexion was compared with the nominal value of 90°, considered normal for
a healthy, young individual (7). Of the 26 patients, 21 (81%)
exhibited improved range of lateral flexion at the end of
microcurrent therapy. Of the 22 patients who returned for
the 3-month follow-up visit, 8 had continued to improve
their range of motion without any additional therapy. Nine
patients experienced a decrease compared with their range
of motion at the end of therapy, but their mobility was still
better than their measurements before therapy. Five patients
experienced no long-term improvement. Figure 8 illustrates
the improvements for the 4 patients who started with severe
limitations and completed all three follow-up visits on
schedule.
Oral opening
Oral opening was measured using a Therabite scale (Fig.
9). The measurement was made for all 26 patients, even if
trismus was not a complaint. Of the 26 patients, 21 (81%)
exhibited improved oral opening after impedance-controlled
microcurrent therapy. Only 16 of the 26 patients stated that
trismus was a problem. Four of the 16 had no improvement
during the course of the study. One had no improvement at
the end of the treatment week but had gained 3 mm in oral
opening at the end of 3 months. For the 7 patients who
maintained improvement in oral opening, the average increase was 4.6 2.2 mm 3 months after the end of microcurrent therapy.
Subjective observations
Before starting microcurrent therapy, patients were asked
to fill out a questionnaire regarding any symptoms they
might be experiencing as a result of RT. During the treatment week, they turned in daily written observations of any
changes in symptoms. Subjective observations were also
recorded at the time of each follow-up visit. Table 6 lists the
number of patients reporting various symptoms, along with
Fig. 9. Therabite scale used to measure oral opening.
32 I. J. Radiation Oncology ● Biology ● Physics Volume 54, Number 1, 2002
the percentage of patients who said that the therapy had
provided noticeable relief of the symptoms.
DISCUSSION
In head-and-neck cancer patients, radiation-induced fibrosis can lead to many different complaints, depending on
the size and placement of the treatment fields, the total dose,
and whether the patient also underwent surgery. Limitations
in neck range of motion are common and are quantifiable.
Because this study was looking for objectively measured
changes associated with microcurrent therapy, the protocol
was designed to achieve improvement in the range of motion. Measurements were made on all patients in the study
regardless of whether the patient considered range-of-motion limitations to be a problem. Most of the patients in the
mildly and moderately limited groups had learned to compensate for the limitations and were surprised when the
measurements showed how much capability they had lost.
The patients who were most severely limited received the
greatest degree of benefit.
Patients also received relief from a number of complaints
not directly targeted in the treatment protocol, the most significant of which were trismus and xerostomia. When the study
was completed, some case studies were done using a different
microcurrent protocol along with physical therapy for the relief
of trismus. The results were encouraging and suggest that
additional studies on the role of microcurrent therapy in treating trismus are warranted. Our xerostomia data are currently
being analyzed and will be published separately.
Perhaps the most encouraging outcome of this study was
that many of the benefits observed at the end of the treatment week were sustained. In some cases, continued improvement occurred during the 3-month follow-up period,
suggesting that the treatment had initiated tissue repair. The
beneficial effects of electric current for soft tissue repair
have been described by Polk (8). The exact mechanisms for
tissue repair are not completely understood, but one theory
indicates that microcurrent stimulation influences the migration of extracellular calcium ions to penetrate the cell
membrane. The higher level of intracellular calcium encourages increased synthesis of adenosine triphosphate. Protein
synthesis is encouraged by affecting mechanisms that control DNA, thus encouraging cellular repair and replication
(9). It is also believed that microvoltage may affect the cascade
of reactions involved in a variety of inflammatory responses.
Our data support the view that microcurrent therapy can initiate long-term benefit for patients with fibrosis.
At the onset of the study, it was expected that any
improvement in symptoms would be transient, because no
follow-up treatment was offered. The data indicate that this
assumption was incorrect. Although the group size was
small, the data shown in Figs. 6 through 8 suggest that
improvement continued during the first and second months
after microcurrent therapy. The treatment schedule needs to
be optimized, perhaps delivering fewer treatments the first
week followed by weekly and then monthly treatments to
determine the maximal achievable benefit. For patients who
are just beginning RT, it is possible that an optimal treatment schedule would include administering impedance-controlled microcurrent treatment concurrent with RT.
In designing the study, we deliberately excluded the use
of any agent or activity that could contribute to the relief of
symptoms associated with fibrosis. Because this study has
shown benefits attributable to microcurrent therapy alone, it
is appropriate to consider combining this therapy with other
physical therapy techniques or medications such as pentoxifylline/vitamin E (10). Seven of the patients who benefited
from microcurrent therapy indicated that they had received
no benefit from previous physical therapy, but it is possible
that the combination might be more effective than either
modality alone.
CONCLUSION
Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy shows promise
in improving the range of motion and alleviating other symptoms associated with radiation-induced fibrosis. Studies should
be done to validate our preliminary results and to optimize the
treatment schedule to achieve longer lasting benefit. Protocols
combining microcurrent therapy with physical therapy and/or
promising medications could prove to be very beneficial in
improving the quality of life for RT patients.
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improvement (%)
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Facial asymmetry 6/7 (86)
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Impedance-controlled microcurrent therapy for RT-induced fibrosis in head-and-neck cancer ● A. J. LENNOX et al. 33
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