Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Microcurrent is Dangerous

Microcurrent is a new physical therapy tool.  You can read about it at where they train practitioners and sell the devices. It stops pain. It can increase flexibility. Don't get me wrong -- these are good things!
I had microcurrent for 2 months as part of my physical therapy for osteoarthritis. In just two treatments, it restored a useful amount of flexibility to my hip joints and it stopped the pain for about four days after each treatment. For a while I was its biggest fan.
But after about a month, I lifted my bicycle, laden with groceries in the saddle bags and felt excruciating bone-on-bone crunching in my left hip.  The bike with groceries weighed about 50 lbs. I told my PT about it.  She explained that microcurrent weakens the tendons and ligaments around the joint that usually protect it. She promised that the exercises she was giving me would make the joint even stronger than before.  But the pain in my joint didn't stop. Recently my rehab doc diagnosed the joint pain from the bicycle lifting as bursitis. I'd been lifting my bike with groceries up the stairs 2 or 3 times a week for the previous 12 years. That's over 1000 times without problems. It takes about 3 seconds to lift that bike up the three steps from the sidewalk to my front door. In three seconds, I created months of pain. My rehab doc suggested acupuncture to treat the bursitis. It's working. It's also expensive and time consuming.

My PT checked the strength in my legs before beginning the microcurrent treatment. She checked again after 1 month and after 2 months. After each checking, my legs tested progressively weaker. I had no idea how weak they had become (after all, who does heel raises and has people press their knees down on a regular basis?) until I went on vacation and tried to climb monuments. I've climbed monuments and hills on vacations for as long as I can remember. Suddenly, I couldn't.  I needed to use a cane and hoist myself up with upper body strength.

When I got back from my vacation, I refused any more microcurrent and asked for a different PT who would give me exercises that work.  The rehab doc and my PTs all insisted that microcurrent couldn't have caused the weakness in my legs.  They were sure something else must have caused it.  

My left leg used to be my stronger leg.  It got more microcurrent and it is now my weaker leg. In my normal day, I do two hours or more of exercise. I ride my bike everywhere (6 to 10 miles a day). I walk my dog about half an hour each time, twice a day. I swim 1/3 of a mile 3 times a week. I do exercise videos daily (the 15 - 20 minute kind). I live in a house with stairs and I go up and down stairs all the time. Plus my PTs have given me about 45 minutes a day worth of exercises. And my 2nd PT has me taking yoga and pilates classes at my gym 4 times a week. That's another 4 hours a week, plus the extra biking time to get there and back.  This adds up to about 4 hours a day of exercise.  Half of it is to recover from the weakness caused by microcurrent.

My rehab doc agrees that the additional exercise is making me stronger. He says most people who come to him aren't as active as I am.   I guess that is code for "They wouldn't miss the strength. They don't want to climb monuments."

But nobody warned me that the microcurrent would weaken my joints so I couldn't lift my bike with groceries on the back. And nobody warned me that it would weaken my legs.  I think one week of microcurrent was worth it to get some flexibility back quickly. But everything beyond that was addictive because it stopped the pain and debilitating at the same time. And if I'd known about bolsters (see previous post) I don't think I'd have needed the microcurrent at all.

I can't go back. My right leg is now almost as strong as it was before microcurrent.  In 2 more months, I'm hoping I can say the same about my left leg.    I'm publishing this warning because nobody else is. My rehab doc and my PTs still aren't convinced that microcurrent caused my weakness. To me, that's the simplest explanation.  They've given me theories about having a spasm that I didn't notice, or an electrolyte imbalance without symptoms and other far-fetched theories. If you are considering microcurrent for osteoarthritis, my recommendation is try bolsters first. And if you still want it, get as few treatments an you can to achieve your goals. 

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