TENS for back pain... does it really help?
You've been suffering with lower back pain for some time and now your chiropractor or medical doctor is recommending a TENS unit.
The short answers are: Maybe. No. No.
Before I explain why the negative answers let's first understand TENS.
TENS is an acronym for Trans-cutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.
The term TENS refers to any type of electrical nerve stimulation by way of the skin. It is most commonly used when referring to electrical stimulation from small battery operated devices used for the purpose of treating pain.
A TENS unit is about the size of a digital camera. It has two positive and two negative electrical lead wires with an adhesive pad on the terminal ends that are placed over the area to be treated.
The unit can be adjusted to stimulate the nerve endings on the skin. The intensity and frequency used is enough to cause stimulation without causing discomfort. The theory is that with this type of stimulation the unit has the ability to block the pain signals from the spinal cord.
With that brief and simple explanation let's now consider the long answers to the above posed questions regarding TENS for back pain.
That depends on what you mean by help.
If you are asking: “Will it help my pain?” Then the answer is... maybe.
What TENS supposedly does is temporarily block the transmission of pain nerve impulses. In effect it has a dampening effect on pain but... it certainly won't stop the pain or... do anything for your underlying condition.
I call it an... electrical aspirin. Like aspirin, it will temporarily lessen the pain, but the effect is short-lived.
At best it may help you get a better nights sleep if used prior to bedtime; but I wouldn't bet on that either.
There are no controlled studies that prove TENS for back pain to be any more effective than simple ice application.
Even if it may have some positive effect in the treatment of pain it is certainly not needed.
If you are hoping to get some relief and other methods have failed, then by all means give it a try. It certainly won't harm you if used as directed. But... it certainly is not needed.
If you're wondering if it will treat the cause of your pain... forget it. That won't ever happen.
TENS has no healing, repairing or rehabilitative properties.
You will probably get better results using ice packs and herbal products, acupuncture or even massage along with your chiropractic care or physical therapy. These therapies have at least shown healing properties.
The number one reason it is prescribed or recommended is because it is a good income generator.
These units are purchased for about $50.00 or so. They are then leased or sold to the patient producing a significant return for the doctor/clinic.
It is a very easy source of revenue with minimal cost and most insurance pays for it. So the unsuspecting patient agrees to it... hoping all they will have to do is strap it on and...
Bingo! They will be cured.
Another reason it is often prescribed is because the doctor doesn't know what else to do. He is frustrated or just ignorant. So he recommends a TENS unit and hopes your lower back pain problem, like almost all lower back pain, will eventually subside enough on its own.
Beware... if the pain subsides on its own it will probably come back on its own as well... unless you take the needed steps to correct your underlying lower back pain condition to the fullest extent possible.
Healing won't come from a bottle, machine or electric current. It will only come about through you and your doctor's/therapist's efforts to restore proper joint function, to strengthen muscles and to balance structural deficits.
The outcome of your care has nothing to do with the use or non-use of TENS.
TENS is just another attempt to suppress a symptom.
With any treatment directed at symptoms make sure you are also receiving active care and doing your part in treating, healing and rehabilitating your lower back problem.
Long story short when deciding on TENS for back pain... save your time and your money.