Written by Tara Peris
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Diathermy is a therapeutic technique that involves the use of electrodes to transmit heat via electrical current. The goal is to stimulate nerves in order to reduce the pain associated with both acute and chronic illnesses. The procedure can be conducted using monopolar (single electrode) or bipolar (dual electrode) configurations.

Diathermy procedures typically do two things. First, they use heat to cut or damage unhealthy tissue. Second, they can induce blood coagulation, which can expedite the healing of certain medical conditions. Diathermy is not meant to stimulate the muscles and has no discernable effect on muscle function.

Types of and Uses for Diathermy

There are three different types of diathermy (all deliver energy to deep tissue, however, where it is turned into heat). Shortwave diathermy is most often used to treat areas with dense tissue mass (such as the hip). With shortwave diathermy, the affected limb or body part is held between two capacitor plates. A diathermy machine generates heat, and high frequency waves travel through the plates (and the body's tissues, as well).

With ultrasound diathermy, high-frequency acoustic vibrations create the heat that helps soothe and heal deep tissue. With microwave diathermy, radar waves heat and heal a patient's tissue. This form doesn't work with deep tissue, though--the microwaves cannot penetrate.

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