Electrotherapy is a common name for various treatments that use electricity to fight back pain. The most common form is called TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). These are devices that deliver electricity into the body through the use of electrodes applied to the skin.
The usual form of treatment is called high frequency stimulation. It is relatively comfortable, but the resulting pain relief is only short term. Low frequency stimulation has a longer lasting result, but is less comfortable to receive the treatment.
Electrical treatment is a very popular add-on service to chiropractic, physical therapy and other types of conservative back care. This is mainly because the doctor does not have to do anything to provide the treatment and each session can be a very profitable endeavor.
Patients report a great diversity of opinions on TENS treatment, ranging from claims of miraculous cures to instances where the therapy made matters worse, and everything in between the two extremes.
TENS units work by blocking signals that pass along the nerves. Nerve messages are electrical in nature and the current from the TENS unit disrupts the neurological signal. Another possible benefit of using a TENS unit is that electricity stimulates the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers produced by the body.
Electric therapy is very controversial and very little definitive evidence exists proving that it actually works at all. Regardless, TENS units remain very popular devices for controlling back pain and have enjoyed widespread usage. Some patients have claimed that this treatment has worked wonders for them, but scientists often speculate that this reaction might be a conditioned response or placebo.
As previously mentioned, many caregivers love TENS for purely financial reasons. They can have an assistant set up a patient on the machine for 30 to 60 minutes and bill an exorbitant amount of money for basically no work at all.
Statistically, electrical therapy is minimally to moderately effective for treating back pain. However, independent studies have shown a similar rate of success comparing real TENS unit stimulation to a device designed to simulate actual electric therapy treatment. This evidence certainly helps support the idea of TENS as a purely placebo treatment.
There have been rare reports of heart and/or blood pressure problems developing from electricity therapy. Patients with certain health issues must not use TENS or risk serious adverse effects. The therapy is also linked to problems with pregnancy and should be avoided by any woman who might be pregnant. Always be sure to discuss the potential risks of electrical treatment with your doctor prior to even considering its use.
I have personally tried several different varieties of deep and superficial electric treatments. I found the sensation to be annoying and sometimes even painful. I never received any back pain relief from any of them. I think the only effect I ever noticed from TENS was to make me cranky from getting zapped for an hour with no benefit.
Of course, your experience might be a completely different story. If you believe in the therapy, it will most likely work for you. I welcome you to write to us with your personal results.