If you’re managing chronic back pain, odds are high you’ve tried a variety of remedies to keep it at bay. Even if conservative treatments like the use of ice or heat are effective, the relief may not last long enough to allow you to go about your daily activities without distracting discomfort. Electrotherapy is a treatment option worth considering if you’re not ready to get back surgery. Los Angeles surgeons from The Spine Institute explain the basics of electrotherapy.
What Electrotherapy Is and How It Works
Electrotherapy uses a battery-powered device to strategically apply safe, mild electrical impulses to the affected area of the spine. The current is delivered with electrodes on sticky pads that disrupt impulses from sensory nerves being sent to the part of the brain that interprets pain (parietal lobe). The electrical stimulation may also provide relief by encouraging the production of endorphins. These hormones naturally stimulate opiate receptors in the brain to provide relief.
Newer electrotherapy devices combine the battery part with the electrodes into one smaller, portable unit that can be worn virtually undetected throughout the day. These devices also have a handheld controller the wearer can use to adjust stimulation levels.
When to Consider Electrotherapy
Generally, electrotherapy isn’t going to be your first attempt at back pain relief. Since the electrical impulses affect the nerves, electrotherapy tends to be beneficial for pain related to some type of nerve irritation. It’s just as important to make sure your back pain has been accurately diagnosed since the treatment is targeted at very specific areas. Targeting an area that’s not the true source of your back pain isn’t going to produce the desired results.
What Results Can Be Expected?
Different people will have different experiences with any form of electrotherapy. Results from TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) may last for about 30 minutes or so. If a wearable device is used so the patient can control and administer stimulation as needed, relief may be continuous throughout the day.
TENS is the most common form of electrotherapy. It works with the use of a small, battery-operated device that delivers current through the skin to the affected area. While TENS is considered a reliable treatment, it’s not universally recommended for patients with chronic low back pain. However, it may be effective for nerve-related pain originating in the lower back.
Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy (IDET)
IDET is a form of electrotherapy that targets intervertebral discs between the bones of the spine. It uses a heated electrothermal catheter to modify nerve fibers within the disc and destroy nearby pain receptors. The electrical current goes through the wire to heat the outside of the affected disc. It’s an outpatient procedure performed with a local anesthetic.
The relief experienced from electrotherapy may allow you to benefit more from physical therapy and other pain management techniques. A related option is spinal cord stimulation, which involves the insertion of a device below the skin that can be self-controlled to provide stimulation as needed. An appealing benefit of electrotherapy is the ability to try it out at your doctor’s office to see if it’s right for you or before you invest in a device you can use on your own at home.
At The Spine Institute Center for Spinal Restoration, we offer a wide variety of treatments for back pain, from spinal cord stimulation to laminectomy back surgery. Los Angeles residents who want to learn more about electrotherapy or other solutions for alleviating back pain should call 310-828-7757 today.