What Is Shortwave Diathermy?

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  • Written By: Marlene Garcia
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 14 January 2020
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Shortwave diathermy defines a complementary treatment for joint or muscle pain through electromagnetic radiation waves that produce heat. High-frequency electrical currents might be used with other forms of physical therapy to reduce inflammation and ease pain. Shortwave diathermy might increase blood flow and relax muscles in large areas of the body. Electrical currents can be administered through a portable machine fitted with electrodes or coils.

This type of therapy might be used on large joints where inflammation from arthritis or bursitis produces pain. Some physical therapists favor shortwave diathermy over ultrasound or microwave therapy because it can send heat to larger areas of the body. Shortwave diathermy might also target smaller joints in the hands or feet where swelling and pain exist.

The condenser method of shortwave diathermy employs two electrodes placed on each side of the treatment area. The electrical current goes between these electrodes while the patient lies perfectly still. This form of therapy might send pulses of heat deeply into body tissue, treating conditions like pelvic inflammatory disease. It is not recommended for women during their menstrual periods because it might increase blood flow.

Inductive coils heat the surface of the skin and surrounding tissue. The electrical energy from this form of shortwave diathermy commonly treats joints where inflammation sets in. In both methods, continuous or brief, pulsed waves of high-frequency current might be effective. Therapists commonly use the highest level of energy a patient can tolerate.


Heat therapy commonly treats sports injuries, including muscle sprains or strains. It might help ease the pain of tennis elbow, knee injuries, and pulled ligaments. This treatment is generally not recommended for joints or tissue where fluid accumulates.

People with metal implants or pacemakers should not seek this form of treatment because metal might increase the amount of heat and cause burns. It is also not recommended for patients with unstable blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disorders. Burning might also occur if open wounds are present.

Shortwave diathermy might alter a patient’s metabolic rate and activate enzymes in the body to produce healing. Each session typically lasts about 30 minutes, with the temperature adjusted for different areas of the body and the amount of body fat present. Physical therapists typically suggest stretching exercises and medication to reduce inflammation, with diathermy employed as a complementary treatment option.


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