Could Electricity Help Reduce Your Back Pain?

Posted on: 10 October 2018


While back pain remains one of the most common forms of pain Americans experience, new treatments for the pain only emerge every so often. Doctors have been experimenting with medical uses for direct electrical stimulation of nerves and muscle tissue for decades. While electrical stimulation as a treatment for back pain was once only available at a doctor's office, now pain sufferers can find many home units for self-directed treatment. Before you give one a try, learn a little bit about the general concepts behind the treatment.

Electrical Stimulation

Most units sold directly to patients for home use offer transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Conductive pads deliver a mild electrical shock to the nerves through the surface of the skin to produce a gentle tingling sensation. It's not clear why some patients experience a reduction in back pain after a TENS treatment, but some researchers believe it may be due to an interruption in the signal of pain being sent through the nerves.

Scientific Evidence

As with many other back pain treatments, there is only mixed scientific evidence backing the use of TENS treatments for this specific condition. However, the treatment is worth a try since there are relatively few risks and side effects associated with TENS application. Some studies found that patients were much less likely to seek further medical treatment or emergency room services for their back pain when a TENS unit was available for home use. The device was first developed as part of a treatment that involved electrical stimulation through surgical implants, and patients who were using it to get used to electrical stimulation were the first to find it effective enough to use TENS alone without the subsequent surgical procedures.

Safety Concerns

A TENS unit doesn't produce enough electricity to harm you when properly used, but there are a few risks if you place the conductive pads in the wrong place. For example, placing one pad on your chest and another on your back conducts energy through your chest and could cause a heart disturbance. Pads shouldn't be placed over the eyes, on the temples, or on the chest or spinal column either. Patients with pacemakers should also avoid them with a doctor's assistance as well. As long as the user follows the manufacturer's instructions on avoiding the wrong pad placement, the only risks are mild skin irritation from the adhesives and numbness or tingling in the treated area.