Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a type of treatment that uses low-voltage electrical current to stimulate the nerves and reduce pain.
It is often used to treat chronic pain conditions, such as lower back pain and acute pain resulting from injury or surgery.
How does TENS work?
TENS treatment involves the use of a TENS unit, which consists of a small, portable device that generates electrical current and adhesive pads or electrodes that are placed on the skin. The electrical current is then delivered to the nerves through the electrodes, stimulating the nerves and interrupting pain signals.
TENS treatment is believed to work in a few different ways:
- By releasing endorphins: Endorphins are the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals. TENS treatment is thought to stimulate the release of endorphins, which can help to reduce pain.
- By blocking pain signals: TENS treatment is thought to interfere with the transmission of pain signals to the brain, making it less likely that the brain will perceive the pain.
- By increasing blood flow: TENS treatment is thought to increase blood flow to the area being treated, which can help to reduce swelling and inflammation, and promote healing.
Is TENS treatment effective for lower back pain?
There is mixed evidence on the effectiveness of TENS treatment for lower back pain.
Some studies have found that TENS treatment can effectively reduce lower back pain, while others have found no significant benefit.
One study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that TENS treatment effectively reduced pain and improved function in individuals with chronic low back pain.
It’s important to note that TENS treatment may not work for everyone, and the effectiveness of treatment can vary depending on the individual and the underlying cause of their pain. Some individuals may experience significant pain relief with TENS treatment, while others may not experience any benefit.
What are the potential risks and side effects of TENS treatment?
TENS treatment is generally considered safe when used as directed. However, there are a few potential risks and side effects to be aware of:
- Skin irritation: The adhesive pads or electrodes used in TENS treatment can cause skin irritation in some individuals. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and to clean the skin before applying the electrodes.
- Electrical shock: There is a risk of electrical shock with TENS treatment, although this risk is generally low. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and to keep the TENS unit away from water.
- Interference with other medical devices: TENS treatment can interfere with some medical devices, such as pacemakers. It’s important to inform your healthcare provider if you have any medical devices before starting TENS treatment.
- Interactions with medications: TENS treatment may interact with some medications, such as anticoagulants. It’s important to inform your healthcare provider of all medications you are taking before starting TENS treatment.
Overall, TENS treatment can be a useful tool in managing lower back pain, but it is not a standalone treatment. It is generally most effective when combined with other treatments such as medications, physical therapy, or chiropractic care.
Working with a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific needs is always important and is highly recommended when using a TENS treatment.