TENS units are machines which use a particular form of electrotherapy called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation to provide pain relief for a variety of conditions, including common back pain. The treatment is very controversial since statistics do not show any real and verifiable benefit to the patient when compared to electrical placebo. However, many patients and care providers alike swear by the efficacy of TENS treatments, making it a serious contender for those who are seeking a non-pharmaceutical pain management option.
This guide helps patients to determine if TENS units are right for their needs and if so, how to buy a safe and effective machine to provide themselves with electrotherapy in the comfort of their own home or office.
TENS is one of the most widely utilized treatments included in a combined care approach for back pain treatment. TENS machines are a great way for back doctors, chiropractors and all manner of back pain specialists to provide a seemingly harmless and potentially very profitable treatment option for patients.
TENS is typically marketed to patients as a great companion therapy to their present back pain treatments and is often an add-on expense when used in a professional setting. During treatment, the doctor is free to attend to other patients, which makes it a great money maker, considering the cheap cost of the equipment versus the high payout factor.
TENS is often prescribed regardless of the diagnosis and is rarely explained in detail to the patient. The sad part is that even many doctors are not sure how it works or what it is exactly designed to do, so they basically use it indiscriminately for every patient and every diagnosis.
Many doctors actually sell TENS machines directly or have a nice affiliate arrangement with a medical equipment supplier. The patient is often told that supplemental home use of electrotherapy will increase the effectiveness of office based treatments. Many patients fall for this sales pitch, often laying out inflated sums for mediocre machines.
Personally, I have seen machines sold at doctor’s offices for 4 times the normal online price. There is nothing wrong with making money, but to do it at the patient’s expense is certainly taking advantage of a position of trust and power. I strongly advise all patients who are interested in home-use TENS care to do their own shopping online. You will be able to get the best deals on equipment and will not have to suffer financial losses on top of your pain.
There is little proof that these machines do anything at all which is beneficial to any diagnosed health issue. Many therapists swear by them, but that is not surprising, given their profitable experiences with the machines.
Some patients also swear by them, but it makes you wonder how many actually benefit from their use and how many have simply either received a placebo effect or just a really good sales pitch. It is difficult to prove either way.
Some types of symptoms, such as back muscle pain, seem more likely to benefit from electrotherapy, especially when compared to structural pain syndromes such as herniated discs or facet joint syndrome.
To be 100% honest, I used electrotherapy myself. I was gullible enough to go for the treatments out of desperation, since nothing seemed to help my pain. I did not receive any benefit from the literally hundreds of sessions I endured. I found the treatments annoying and uncomfortable and actually got rather stiff sitting for the 45 to 60 minutes while being zapped. I researched this therapy in great detail, since I suspected something foul all along.
After reviewing the facts and statistics, I can honestly say that many of the best doctors consider TENS to be mostly smoke and mirrors. It looks impressive and feels like it is doing something, but in actuality, is mostly a waste of time, money and hope.
I know many other doctors and therapists will disagree, but let’s make it an fair argument. If they agree to offer electrotherapy as a completely free part of their treatment, then I will believe in the sincerity of their support for these machines. (and I mean truly free… not some “all inclusive” inflated price…) Any takers on this offer? I didn’t think so.
I do not mean to discount the treatment entirely, as this is not my intention. I simply argue that it TENS therapy should be explained better, have a targeted objective and be used for appropriate conditions only.
In my own personal and professional experience this treatment amounts to little more than a way to bleed patients and their insurance carriers for billions every year.
On the flip side, patients have written to me citing TENS as the saviors of their very lives. Some have found this therapy to be far more effective than any other type of pain management system. Being that TENS has truly minimal risks, it may be worth a second look from any of you who are open minded to electrical pain relief modalities.