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Iontophoresis with Dexamethasone

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Updated June 18, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Definition:

Iontophoresis is a physical therapy modality that combines a low-voltage electrical current with the topical application of pain medication.

Iontophoresis with dexamethasone is often used for inflammatory conditions such as bursitis or tendonitis. Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid.

With iontophoresis treatments, the electric current enhances the delivery of the pain-relieving medication through the barrier of the skin and the hair follicles. In the past, experts believed that the action of iontophoresis was to push the medication through the skin. Recently, they've updated their understanding of how ionto (as it is called for short) works. They now say it helps open up the pores of the skin, which allows the medication to flow freely into your tissues.

When you have an iontophoresis treatment, you'll lie down and a therapist will place two electrodes, one with medication, close to the area of inflammation. The electrodes will be connected to an iontophoresis machine. Your therapist will then work the controls on the iontophoresis machine to get enough current to overcome the barriers provided by the electrodes as well as your skin. The treatment lasts between 10 and 15 minutes.

Because the medication is applied to your skin, iontophoresis allows for a high concentration of the applied drug to reach the underlying muscles, with few, if any, side effects. The drug is also delivered to a larger surface area.

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