What Is a Diathermy Machine?

Sandra Koehler

Heat is a therapeutic tool used to relieve pain issues and promote relaxation. It is also a method to promote the biological healing process inside the body. A diathermy machine is a therapeutic device used to deliver heat deeply to specific parts of the body using a high frequency current.

A diathermy machine can reach deep regions of the muscles that cannot be reached by a heating pad.
A diathermy machine can reach deep regions of the muscles that cannot be reached by a heating pad.

The most common form of heat delivery to the body is through the use of a moist heating pad. This method heats up the skin and increases blood flow to the area. A heating pad can decrease pain and relax tightness in the superficial layers of the skin and muscles. A diathermy machine, on the other hand, can reach beyond the skin and penetrate into the deeper layers of tissues reaching the underlying tendons, ligaments and muscles that may be causing tightness, physical limitations and pain issues. Using heat produced by a high frequency current, a diathermy machine can penetrate anywhere from about 1.2 inches to about 2 inches (three to five centimeters) deeper.

There are two different types of diathermy units. A shortwave diathermy utilizes high frequency electric currents which are then converted into heat. A microwave diathermy employs the use of electromagnetic radiation in the form of wavelengths to produce a deep penetrating heat. Both have the ability to induce relaxation, and promote pain relief and healing through increasing the amount of blood flow to the area.

While traditional methods of heat delivery, such as heating packs, can be administered by anyone with the proper precautions, a diathermy unit requires administration by a medical professional. Contraindications or situations where a diathermy unit should not be used include such things as changes in sensations to heat or circulation problems, infection and some medical conditions such as cancer, as it may increase the risk for spreading. Due to its highly specialized delivery of heat, damage in the form of burning of the tissues or underlying structures may occur if diathermy is administered improperly.

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