In the treatment of back pain there isn’t just one remedy; treating the symptoms by several different means can be very effective. Besides the more well-known remedies, like pain killers, icing and exercise, electrical stimulation has also been successful in pain management. Transcutaneous (or “through the skin”) Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) works by transmitting electrical impulses via electrodes placed on the skin. The electrode pads are carefully placed to target the areas which are causing pain. A physiotherapist or healthcare professional can advise on the most effective placement of the pads. The chronic musculoskeletal pain of the back is one type of pain that responds very well to the TENS machine.
The idea behind the TENS machine is that pain messages sent to the brain are overridden by the electrical messages of the machine. Just as when you hit your funny bone and immediately reach down to rub the area, the electrical stimulus can help with chronic pain. The machine can be set to several different settings: constant, modulation and burst. The first sends a constant signal that is better for acute pain. The frequency on the modulation mode changes so that the nerve doesn’t adapt. The burst mode is what it sounds, a burst of frequency happens that has proven to be good with people with chronic pain.
Some TENS users find experience immediate relief and some find that they have to wait a few weeks before obtaining effective results. The good news is that, if used properly, there are no adverse side effects, which is not necessarily the case with other treatments. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) has also shown to stimulate the body’s production of endorphins, which has also been proven to relieve pain. They are relatively inexpensive to buy and run.
In order for the machine to be the most effective, and the safest possible, electrodes should never be placed:
- Do not place electrode pads on broken or damaged skin, over the front or side of the neck, on each temple, close to eyes or in the mouth.
- On areas of decreased sensation (numb skin)
- In or near water such as in the bath or shower.
TENS should not be used by people with epilepsy, or people who have an artificial cardiac pacemaker, or with people with certain types of heart disease. TENS should also be used with great caution in pregnant women (affect on the developing fetus are not known). Before using the machine a doctor should be consulted.