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Freezing Cold Electrodes? Not Anymore!

Posted Jan 08 2011 8:55pm

I live and practice chiropractic in Rochester, NY right smack in the middle of the upstate New York snow belt. And I know it’s hard for you to believe but it does get a tad bit chilly around here…even in the winter time. Seriously.  Now, on occasion in our office, we use some electric modalities with patients (electric muscle stimulation, interferential, etc.) and one thing always bothered me. Generally, when we choose to use one of these modalities, it is because of overly tight muscles or splinting (settle down there Ben Franklin, we can talk about the research in another post). And regardless of whether we used the sticky electrodes or the 3 x 5″ carbon electrodes that were sprayed with water (my economical preference), patients always jumped just a bit from the cold electrodes. This seemed counter-productive — especially when we are talking about people who are in pain and spasm and shouldn’t be exposed to a shock that makes them jump at all.

Several times per day, I would hear myself say, “Sorry, these are going to be a bit cold.”
To which the patient would respond, “Arrrrrgh! Holy crap, is that cold!”

Not the greatest strategy for patient comfort, retention and bedside manner.

So five years ago, I decided to take it as a personal challenge to solve the problem of the freezing cold carbon electrodes. First, I tried heating the water in the spray bottles we used. I got a desktop coffee cup heater and rested the spray bottle on that. I also tried ultrasound gel warmers and a few other strategies. No help. The water stayed warm but once the water hit the air, it was almost as cold as without heating it. And keep in mind, 72 degree room temperature water is awfully chilly to a 98.6 degree body.

After several experiments I determined that the only way to consistently deliver comfortably toasty electrodes to the patient would be to actually heat the electrodes. Then, once the water hit them, they would still feel warm. But how? We have a microwave in the office but this seemed like a terrible idea for the degradation of the carbon. I was also afraid it would become uncomfortably hot and perhaps even cause burns. Another idea was to dunk them in a hydrocollator but I didn’t have one in every treatment room and had no intention of buying a bunch of hot water tanks at $250 a pop. Not to mention the space they take up and the horrible prospect of a kid turning his arm into soup. It also made the electrodes really wet and patients didn’t dig that too much.

The perfect solution would be something that I could rest the electrodes on and keep them at a safe, steady temperature.  It would need to be small, be able to stay on all day without over heating and be safe around little patients’ little fingers.

In the unlikeliest of places, I actually found it! A small, thin, flat heating element that stayed at 100 degrees fareinheit. No more, no less. The device is meant to be kept on all day long with no danger of overheating. You can turn them off at night and they warm up quickly in the mornings. They are safe to touch. They don’t wear out the electrodes and they cost under 15 bucks!

I bought four of them and they have been in constant service for 5 years.  None have failed. None have caused patient burns. And best of all, there have been no chilly electrodes.  I can use them with the carbon or the sticky ‘trodes.  I sandwich the paper-thin heater between two pairs of electrodes and usually toss a package of stickies on top.  Now patients say, “Ohh, that’s nice and toasty. Like a spa.”

I can live with that.  Bring it on, Winter! I’m ready for ya, Tough Guy!

I searched around since the store I initially got these heaters no longer carries them but I just located them online for a great price! The exact model and brand I have been using can be found here in case you are interested in getting some for yourself.  Yes, it takes you to a pet store website.  No, that is not a mistake.

Too bad you have to get them online, though. I really enjoyed the horrific look I got from the checkout girl when I first purchased mine when her eyes widened and she asked, “Exactly how many cobra snakes do you own?!?”

You will miss that conversation and the wide-eyed checkout girl but you won’t miss your patients cringing from your formerly cold electrodes.

Let me know how it works out for you.


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