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How Effective is TENS for Back Pain?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many medical studies have been performed to determine how effective Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is on pain relief, and most have concluded that it is no more beneficial than a placebo, although both were able to alleviate pain in a large number of patients. These studies have been reported by many mainstream medical establishments and have included hundreds of patients who suffer from chronic pain. Patients have reported various results when using TENS for back pain relief, with some claiming significant pain reduction and others reporting no difference at all.

TENS is a procedure which involves attaching electrodes to the body and sending a small electrical current into nerves for the purpose of alleviating pain. There are various theories as to how this works. One states that nerves can only transmit one sensation at a time, so the electricity blocks the pain signals. Another reports that it stimulates the production of endorphins, which is the body’s natural “feel good” hormone. Most mainstream medical establishments claim that the effects are entirely psychological.

The use of TENS for back pain relief provides mixed results among different patients. In most medical studies, patients reported a significant reduction if pain when using TENS, but an equal number of patients reported the same reduction when using a fake device. This means that this method may work, but the results are likely psychological rather than medical. Patients experience reduced pain because they believe their pain is being cured.

Pain location also seems to be a factor in the effectiveness of TENS for back pain. Those with lower back pain do not seem to have the same results as those with pain in other areas of the back and neck according to some studies. Some conditions are also better treated with TENS than others.

Overall, TENS for back pain relief as a treatment method is not harmful, and some patients may benefit. How much or whether it works at all will depend on the individual, the severity of pain, and the condition being treated. Medical communities do not recommended this treatment for all potential conditions, although in most cases it is not dangerous to try it and see how well it works. Only a trained medical professional should diagnose and treat severe or chronic back pain.

TENS therapy may not be available in all areas, and it is generally considered an alternative therapy. This means that it may not be covered by insurance, although this will vary between providers. A medical professional should be consulted to determine the best back pain treatment for each individual.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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