E stim for back pain, or electronic stimulation, is a classic medical treatment. It has been used for several centuries to manage pain and treat a wide variety of diseases.
"electric eels were used"
In ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome, electric eels were used to treat arthralgias, migraines, melancholy, and epilepsy. In 50 AD, Scribonius Largus reported treating headaches and gout with electric torpedo fish.
Modern e-stim for back pain uses small electrodes placed on the skin to direct low voltage electrical current, which stimulates nerves and muscles.
It is also used to treat flaccid paralysis, and help heal fractures and acute sprains, as well as for pain control.
When used for chronic back pain, two or more electrode patches are place on, or around the area of pain.
Then low voltage electricity, at various frequencies, is passed through the skin into the nerves and muscles.
"TENS units, interferential units, and galvanic units"
There are many different types of electronic stimulation units on the market, each with its own way of adjusting the amount, and the type, and the frequency of the electricity delivered.
In general, these electrical stimulators can be divided into three types, TENS units, interferential units, and galvanic units.
Most have a small case that clips on your belt, or fits in your pocket, with small wires that attach to the electrodes.
The electrodes are contained in small sticky pads, similar to large band aids, which you place on your skin. You can place these in various positions and patterns to optimize your relief.
Image thanks to Thomas671973 via Wiki Commons
"prevent atrophy and stimulates blood flow"
Electronic muscle stimulation, or ems, can be used to elicit involuntary muscle contractions in people who are unable to voluntarily contract their muscles because of injury or disease. This stimulation of the muscles helps to prevent atrophy and stimulates blood flow, bringing oxygen and nutrients to flaccid muscles.
Studies have shown that electronic stimulation can be used to stimulate new bone growth and help heal fractured bones. It also may be used to help control the pain and swelling of sprained ankles and other ligament injuries, speeding recovery and return to normal activity.
"You can experiment with the different possibilities"
Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation units, or TENS units, were the earliest models. The first patent was issued in 1974. These use low voltage alternating current, and often there are controls to adjust the amperage, voltage, and frequency. Some models have programs to cycle each of these up and down in a variety of patterns. You can experiment with the different possibilities to find what works best for you.
Interferential units use four or more electrode patches, and two or more alternating electrical currents. In this arrangement they can work with a combination of frequencies to increase penetration and reduce discomfort at a given power setting.
"the negative electrode will have increased blood flow"
Galvanic units use direct current, and are used more on acute injuries. The electromagnetic field is reported to influence blood flow, and speed healing. The positive electrode causes reduced blood flow and decreased swelling in the area where it is applied. The area of the negative electrode will have increased blood flow, and according to reports, faster healing.
Exactly how each of these various electrical currents works to relieve pain, is a matter of debate. It has been suggested that the current scrambles the pain signal, so that what reaches the brain is not recognized as pain.
The gate control theory of pain control contends that stimulation of sensory nerves that do not transmit pain will block the signal, or close the gate, in the nerves that do transmit pain.
"a hormone similar to morphine"
Others have theorized that the electric force directly blocks the pain signal, thus relieving the pain. In addition, it has been shown that electrical stimulation promotes the release of endorphins, a hormone similar to morphine, with pain relieving qualities.
These electronic stimulation devices should not be used over areas of infection or malignancy. People who have pacemakers or are pregnant are also not candidates for e stim. For obvious reasons, electrodes should never be placed on the head or near the eyes.
"adequate long term studies were not available"
This type of treatment must be used with care, and with your doctor’s specific directions, on the neck, chest, and upper back. Improper lead placement around the heart could interrupt your heart's rhythm. With properly place leads the risks of treatment are limited to minor skin irritation.
The Cochrane Collaboration is an international not-for-profit scientific group that collects and reviews all of the available studies on specific healthcare treatments. They attempted to consider the studies on e stim for chronic pain and concluded that adequate long term studies were not available to confirm or deny the effectiveness of this treatment.
"effective treatment for certain groups"
However, they did report that after looking at 22 studies, comparing TENS units to placebo, for the management of chronic pain. 13 of the studies showed some positive benefits with the TENS units.
Should you try e stim? I don't know the answer. But, it seems that e stim can be an effective treatment for certain groups of people.
It has been used for a long time, and the risks of treatment are well defined and rather minimal.
You should discuss any treatment with your doctor, who knows your medical history, and can give you specific advice.
But if you are suffering with chronic pain, and other treatments have not been effective, it appears that a trial of e stim may be worthwhile.