Iontophoresis Medications Used in Physical Therapy

Iontophoresis, a type of electrical stimulation that is used to administer specific medication into your body, is a therapeutic modality commonly used in physical therapy. It is often used to treat a variety of different conditions.

The specific medication that is used in iontophoresis depends upon the goals of treatment. Some medications are used to decrease inflammation, while others are used to decrease calcium deposits in muscle and tendon tissue.

If your physical therapist decides to use iontophoresis, it is important that you understand the goals of treatment and the type of medication that is being used. Below is a list of common iontophoresis medications and their uses in physical therapy.

Iontophoresis Benefits
Illustration by Lisa Fasol, Verywell


Dexamethasone is a common anti-inflammatory medication used during iontophoresis treatments in many physical therapy clinics. It is helpful in decreasing localized inflammation that occurs in musculoskeletal conditions such as tendonitis or bursitis. Inflammation causes pain, decreased tissue mobility, and swelling. The dexamethasone helps to decrease the inflammatory process to decrease your pain and improve your mobility.


Acetic Acid

If you have a condition such as adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder) or calcific tendonitis, your physical therapist may use acetic acid in solution during iontophoresis. It is used primarily to decrease calcium deposits in musculoskeletal tissue, such as that which occurs if you have myositis ossificans. Once the calcium deposits are broken down, you should work on specific exercises for your frozen shoulder to improve your range of motion and function.



Chlorine is a negatively charged ion used in iontophoresis in the treatment of scar tissue and keloid scars. Your physical therapist may use this to augment other treatments for your scar tissue, like stretching and scar tissue massage.


Calcium Chloride

Calcium chloride is a medication often used in iontophoresis to help decrease muscle spasm. Stretching as part of a home exercise program can help to maintain muscle function between sessions of calcium chloride administration.



Iodine has been reported to be helpful as a medication to help treat sclerotic conditions such as frozen shoulder. It has also been shown to help improve local blood flow to tissues when used in iontophoresis.


Magnesium Sulfate

Magnesium sulfate is a medication that is often used to help treat muscle spasm. Iontophoresis administration of magnesium sulfate may also help decrease localized muscle pain. Stretching can help keep muscle spasms at a minimum.



Hyaluronidase is a medication used to help treat soft tissue edema or swelling. If you have swelling after injury or surgery, it may be effective in the acute or chronic stages of healing to help manage edema.


Tap Water

Believe it or not, simple tap water has been shown to help treat hyperhidrosis (sweaty palms or feet) through iontophoresis. The tap water is used on either the positive or negative electrode during a hand (or foot) immersion bath.

Before administering any medication using iontophoresis, your physical therapist should review all other medications that you are taking. He or she should also consult your healthcare provider, as many states in the U.S. require that a prescription is obtained before administering medication via iontophoresis.

If you are having a difficult time moving around due to injury or illness, you may benefit from physical therapy with iontophoresis to augment your active physical therapy program.

5 Sources
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  2. Bagnulo A, Gringmuth R. Treatment of myositis ossificans with acetic acid phonophoresis: a case seriesJ Can Chiropr Assoc. 2014;58(4):353–360.

  3. Merrick, MA. Therapeutic modalities as an adjunct to rehabilitation. Physical Rehabilitation of the Injured Athlete. 2012;104-142. doi:10.1016/B978-1-4377-2411-0.00008-3. 

  4. Electrotherapy. Iontophoresis.

  5. Yaghobi Z, Goljarian S, Oskouei AE. Comparison of tap water and normal saline iontophoresis in idiopathic hyperhidrosis: a case reportJ Phys Ther Sci. 2014;26(8):1313–1315. doi:10.1589/jpts.26.1313

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.