Injury type: Acute

Category: Allied Health Options

Rating: No research

What is it?

Galvanic, or direct current, is a form of electrotherapy treatment. The electrical current, rectified to a safe, low-voltage level is applied to the body via electrodes placed on the skin. Galvanic current is usually applied by a qualified professional, via a machine in their clinic.

How does it work?

The flow of current through an effected region may reduce pain by inhibiting pain receptors. As it is also thought to enhance the transport of ionized substances through the skin, it can also be used to promote the resorption of topical drugs such as anti-inflammatory creams (this process is called iontophoresis). It works by distracting nerves and the brain from the pain sensations.

Is it effective?

A recent randomised controlled trial1 examined the effectiveness of galvanic current which is applied via percutaneous acupuncture-like needles (such treatment is called ‘percutaneous needle electrolysis’ or PNE), when compared to a standard physiotherapy treatment for patients affected by acute grade II whiplash. While this study revealed statistically significant, similar improvements in pain and quality of life measures in both treatment groups, the improvement in pain pressure threshold particularly favoured the PNE group. Furthermore, the PNE group also had less treatment sessions and required less treatment time, as opposed to the physiotherapy group.

Are there any disadvantages?

There has been no research on the disadvantages associated with galvanic current. The machine is not routinely used at home, therefore you must have a professionally trained therapist apply it. This approach may not be suitable for everyone.

Where do you get it?

Galvanic current may be provided by therapists involved in facilitating recovery from whiplash.


Based on the limited body of research, the use of galvanic current for whiplash cannot be recommended. More research, including studies exploring the long-term effect, is required before concrete recommendations can be made.