Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation May Help Your Back Pain

If you're living with chronic back pain and treatments such as exercise, hot and cold therapy, and over-the-counter pain relievers don't seem to help, it may be time to see a pain specialist. Since many things can cause back pain, it's often difficult to zero in on an effective form of treatment without medical help. One form of therapy your doctor may recommend is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS. Here is how it works.

TENS Stimulates Your Nerves

TENS therapy is something you can do at home under your doctor's guidance. You'll wear a small, portable device that's powered by batteries. The device clips to your belt or pocket. It's attached to electrodes that you place over the painful area on your back. The batteries send an electrical signal through the electrodes on your skin to the nerves in your back. This electrical stimulation is what brings about pain relief.

How TENS Works

TENS therapy doesn't always work for everyone, but when it does, it is thought to bring about pain relief in a couple of different ways. For one, it may stimulate your body to release endorphins, which are your body's natural pain relievers. Endorphins not only help relieve pain, they also elevate your mood so the pain isn't so bothersome. Another way the TENS unit works is by keeping the nerves in your back stimulated so that pain signals are blocked from getting to your brain. TENS therapy doesn't cure your back pain. It is only a way to help manage it and give you temporary relief.

Advantages Of TENS Therapy

TENS therapy is often worth exploring because if it works for you, it may keep you off medications that make you drowsy or put you at risk for addiction. It also allows you to stay mobile, so you can get relief while you work or engage in social activities. You can use TENS with medication if you need to, and you can also use it in conjunction with other therapies such as stretching and strengthening exercises for your back. While it may not be a permanent cure, it may be a good alternative to back surgery if you can't afford surgery or if you have a medical condition that makes surgery risky. TENS treatments have very few side effects, so the treatments are generally safe as long as your doctor has determined you are a good candidate for the procedure.

When TENS Is Not A Good Choice

In order for the TENS treatments to work, you have to be able to follow your doctor's instructions for adjusting the settings on the device. If you are not able to do so, or if you can't apply the electrodes to your back properly, then you may need to look at other forms of back pain relief. Also, if you have very sensitive skin, or allergies, the electrodes may cause itching or soreness. If repositioning the electrodes often isn't enough to prevent skin problems, then you may not be able to use a TENS unit. In addition, certain medical conditions such as pregnancy, cancer, or wearing a pacemaker may exclude you from being a good candidate for TENS.

Your TENS unit should always be used under the supervision of your doctor to ensure you place the electrodes where they need to go and that you use the correct settings on the device. That way, the treatments will be safer and more effective.

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