Electrotherapy can be used effectively to help eliminate back pain and speed the healing process. Some of the more common treatments using mild electrical current include:
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) - A TENS unit is a battery-powered device that looks very much like a small Walkman (TM) radio or pager. Through the use of surface electrodes, an electrical current runs from the equipment to the target area emitting a tingling sensation that affects the nerve and muscle cells. The most common use of the TENS device calls for setting the device to deliver 80 to 100 impulses a second for 45 minutes, three times a day. This stimulation enhances healing, alleviates swelling and reduces pain. However, pain is different for everyone. Two people whose pain is caused by the same problem may need very different settings to achieve relief. If the patient experiences substantial pain relief, a TENS unit may be used at home for low back pain relief on a long-term basis.
Interferential Current (IFC) - This form of treatment penetrates the skin more deeply than a regular TENS unit with less user discomfort considering the higher level of concentration. The IFC has been found to provide pain relief for patients who have not been helped by TENS. IFC modulates at a higher frequency (4000 Hz) carrier waveform with the same signal produced by a TENS unit. The higher frequency penetrates the skin more deeply than a regular TENS unit, with less user discomfort for a given level of stimulation. This may block transmission of pain, and could possibly cause the body to release its natural painkillers, endorphins.
Galvanic Stimulation (GS) - Galvanic stimulation is most useful in acute injuries associated with major tissue trauma with bleeding or swelling. Galvanic stimulators apply direct current to the injured area in contrast to TENS and IFC units, which apply alternating current. Through the use of positive and negative pads placed on the skin, direct current creates an electrical field over the treated area, that, theoretically, changes blood flow. The positive pad behaves like ice, causing reduced circulation to the area under the pad and reduction in swelling. The negative pad behaves like heat, causing increased circulation which speeds healing.