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Nerve Stimulation Device Doesn't Ease Most Back Pain
Date:12/30/2009

n though there is no established theory about how it may provide relief for pain. One theory is based on the belief that nerves can carry only one signal at a time, and that the stimulation provided by the device prevents the pain message from getting through to the brain.

TENS is widely available and widely advertised, but "just because it is popular doesn't mean that it works," Dubinsky said. Approval of TENS by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't mean much either, he added.

"The threshold for approval by the FDA is different for devices than for pharmaceuticals," Dubinsky said. "For a device, you just have to prove that it is safe. For a pharmaceutical, you have to prove that it is safe and effective."

It's possible that TENS is effective against some forms of pain, such as what is experienced after surgery, but such studies haven't been done, he said.

The demand for relief of back pain -- acute and chronic -- is large; the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that it is the second-most common neurological ailment in the country. It is estimated that about one-quarter of all Americans experience some sort of back pain in any given three months.

Effective treatments for back pain include exercise, stretching and anti-inflammatory medications, including over-the-counter nonsteroidal drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, Dubinsky said.

More information

Causes and treatment of back pain are described by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.



SOURCES: Richard M. Dubinsky, M.D., M.P.H., professor, neurology, Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City; Dec. 30, 2009, Neurology, online


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