Lower Back Pain Relief: TENS Unit
TENS Unit - Lower Back Pain
I have a lot of lower back pain, and I searched for months for lower back pain relief. I finally discovered TENS units, and my TENS unit is a real lifesaver. My back pain began several years ago. At first, it was just a once-in-a-while ache, but it steadily worsened. I went to my regular doctor, who sent me to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist ordered an MRI that showed nerve damage, so he sent me to an orthopedist. The orthopedist had chiropractors, physical therapists, and massage therapists in the office with him, so it was sort of a “one stop shop” for my back pain. I took advantage of the whole team! In fact, this group is where I learned about how effective the little units can be for lower back pain relief.
Lower Back Pain and Foraminal Stenosis
The MRIs showed that I have foraminal stenosis that was causing my lower back pain. In other words, the openings around my vertebrae where the nerves exit have closed up because of osteophytes. There’s bone growing where it shouldn’t be, so the nerves don’t have enough room. The compressed nerves cause lower back pain, in my case.
Foraminal stenosis can occur in any part of the spine – in the cervical, the thoracic, or the lumbar. The lumbar spine is the most common site for foraminal stenosis, with lower back pain as the major symptom. The pain can also affect the leg and foot, and the condition can also cause tingling and numbness.
With my lumbar forminal stenosis, I sometimes have severe back pain, leg pain, and numbness. Oftentimes, I can relieve much of the pain by getting into a certain position, but I also have very painful muscle spasms at times, and I couldn’t escape them with repositioning or with anything else…yet.
In Search of Lower Back Pain Relief
I had never had much faith in chiropractors, even though I have friends who swear by them for their back pain. These particular chiropractors, however, used something called “Cox decompression.” Cox decompression is like traction without being placed in a traction contraption. The Cox table stretches your spine, which often serves to relieve back pain. I always refer to it jokingly as “the rack.” Decompression helped with my lower back pain, but the results didn’t last long, and I couldn’t very well take the Cox decompression device home with me.
I also tried physical therapy. It helped some, but some of the exercises were painful. When I reported this to the orthopedist, he told me not to continue physical therapy if it made my back pain worse. I tried therapeutic massage, which was wonderful for a short period of relief from lower back pain, but the effects didn’t last long enough. I tried an epidural injection, and I was great for three weeks, but then it wore off, and my back pain returned.
I felt like I was running out of options. I had a prescription for oxy and hydrocodone, but I hated taking the pain pills. They usually made me nauseous, and if I took phenergan with them to combat the nausea, all I could do was sleep. Also, I’ve always been very concerned about becoming addicted to pain medications. I’ve seen it happen to others, and I didn’t want it to happen to me. Surgery was an option, but all my doctors advised me to put off back surgery as long as I possibly could.
A TENS Unit?
Finally, one day my doctor suggested I try using a TENS machine. I’d never heard of a TENs unit, so I asked him to explain. He left the exam room and came back holding a small device with wires coming out of it. The box was about the size of a cell phone, and it had dials and buttons. It also had a clip on it that could be attached to a shirt or blouse, or to the waist of pants. I was definitely interested in the contraption. By that time, I was willing to try just about anything to relieve my lower back pain!
How does a TENS unit work?
To be honest, I think every doctor I’ve talked to about how TENS units work have each given me a different answer. Some think the electrical impulses interrupt the pain impulses, “confusing” the brain. Some doctors believe that TENS units affect the opioid receptors in the nervous system, serving as a “pain block.” Serotonin, the “feel good” neurotransmitter, might also be part of the reason a TENS unit works. A TENS unit with low frequency activates receptors in the spinal cord while releasing serotonin.
What's a TENS unit?
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, unit, is a device that uses an electrical current to relieve pain, especially back pain. The TENS unit has leads and electrodes that attach to the wearer’s skin with sticky pads. The wearer can adjust just how much current they want to receive by using the dials on the TENS unit. The TENS unit I have uses batteries and has four leads. You can also use different shapes and sizes of pads for different areas.
My Experience with a TENS Unit
Not all doctors recommend using a TENS unit. Some studies show that TENS units are ineffective, while others show that TENS units can be very effective for chronic pain, especially pain due to osteoarthritis and musculoskeletal pain. Apparently, TENS units don't work on everyone, but when they do, they provide a welcome relief from back pain.
I really don’t care which studies say what. I only care about how my TENS unit helps with my lower back pain. When I’m having severe lower back pain from muscle spasms, hubby hooks me up to my TENS unit and I dial that sucker up to full power! The pain relief is almost instant, and my lower back pain is almost completely alleviated. My TENS unit is programmable, so I can choose how long I want it to stay active. I also have a choice of which kinds of impulses I want. For example, I might choose a steady impulse, or one that starts off weak and builds to a peak before dropping down again in intensity.
I’ll tell you this, too: My TENS unit hasn’t been very effective for nerve pain. In fact, I haven’t found anything that helps with that, other than some high-powered pain meds. For lower back pain and other back pain due to muscles, however, the TENS unit is awesome! If you're searching for lower back pain relief, a TENS machine is definitely worth a try. Really, it's one of the best investments I've ever made.