Back pain is one of the most common causes of pain in adults, second to the headache. Back pain can be manifested in a number of locations in the body, such as the upper back, neck, and (most commonly) the lower back. Back pain is caused by a variety of factors, but is most commonly attributed to ageing, an inactive lifestyle, poor posture, obesity, pregnancy, and smoking.
Back Pain Can Lead to Serious Consequences
Although regular exercise can help alleviate and prevent moderate back pain, some older adults suffer from chronic back pain – pain that persists and constantly reoccurs – which is much harder to eliminate. Chronic back pain can lead to significant debilitation and immobilization that wreaks havoc on day-to-day life.
New Option Instead of Pain Medication
Fortunately, a new study performed by postdoctoral researcher Corey Simon, Ph.D., of the Pain Research and Intervention Center of the University of Florida at Gainesville, may suggest a new treatment option for older adults with chronic back pain.
Nerve Stimulation Improves Physical Function
The study employed the use of a “TENS” device – a device that, when activated, significantly improves and reduces pain in the back through “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.” The participants of the study also reported an improvement in physical function.
The TENS device is a small battery-operated unit that delivers low electrical volts through electrodes on the skin. The TENS device most likely works by activating receptors in the spinal cord and brain, according to Dr. Corey Simon.
Alternative to Pain Medicine But Relief Can Be Brief
TENS units are commonly used to treat pain associated with childbirth and osteoarthritis. However, the benefits of the TENS device are realized only when the device is activated. When the unit is turned off, pain relief can last for a little while, but quickly wears off.
Not A Permanent Solution
Although the device is not a permanent solution to chronic back pain, the device may have considerable advantages over medication. The TENS device is approximately $60 plus batteries and patients could use it at home to alleviate pain. According to the study, there are no negative side effects, unlike many medications for pain relief.
The study consisted of 60 adults ages 18 to 79 with lower back pain. Participants received four separate 20-minute sessions of TENS therapy over the course of two to three weeks and reported their results.
Simon says the study was unique because the dose of the TENS device was higher than normal but was still tolerated by the participants. Older participants required higher doses of the device than the younger participants in order to achieve the same results.
Some insurers cover TENS devices as methods of pain relief, but many of the covered devices can cost around $800 or more. Dr. Houman Danesh – the director of integrative pain management in the department of anesthesiology-pain at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City – suggests the lower-cost models which perform the same function.
The TENS device, according to Simon, is “not a new treatment” and has “been around for 50 years or more.” However, TENS therapy is a safe, conservative, and inexpensive treatment to help alleviate – although not solve – back pain.
Dr. Robert Hausman is a chiropractor in the Austin area. He enjoys helping people with their neck, back or headaches problems through chiropractic care. He also helps through corrective excersices and massage therapy to help strenghen and relax the muscles. Dr. Hausman also enjoys being active and participates in marathons or practices yoga and other activities.