Managing Low Back Pain
If you’ve ever had low back pain you’re not alone. The problem affects one in six Australians, with as many as four in five experiencing it at some time in their life. For most people, the pain comes on quickly, and it improves or goes away within a matter of weeks. For some, however, the pain returns and becomes persistent, lasting for more than three months, and causing havoc to daily life beyond forcing you to miss your daily treadmill workout at the gym. But the good news is that you can do plenty to help low back pain, including using a TENS machine for pain relief.
Back pain is the second most common reason why Australians visit their GP, and to better understand what can go wrong it helps to know how the back works. It’s an amazing, complex structure supporting your pelvis, legs, ribcage, arms and skull, comprising a spine of 24 small bones called vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other, with discs sitting between each vertebrae acting as shock absorbers and giving the spine flexibility. The vertebrae are joined by pairs of tiny facet joints, and a mesh of ligaments and muscles holds everything together.
Pain can originate from any of the back’s structures, but commonly it comes from muscles, ligaments or joints, and for various reasons from heavy lifting or sudden awkward movement, to poor posture or being overweight or sedentary. The good news, however, is that nine out of 10 people with low back pain haven’t got significant damage to their back; instead, they have what’s referred to as “non-specific back pain”. But when low back pain becomes chronic, it can significantly impact everyday life, including daily activities, work, family life, social life, sports, and mental health.
Opinions on effectively treating and managing low back pain have changed. According to a new report published in September 2022 by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, the previous approach, which included imaging tests, bed rest, pain medication and surgery, is now regarded as limited in helping most people. Bed rest and pain medication can lead to worsening disability, and where the latter is concerned, a study published in the BMJ in March 2023 cast doubt as to their effectiveness and safety when used to treat acute non-specific low back pain.
The new recommendations include physical activity and better self-management, and this is where a PainPod or Hidow machine can help, offering both TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) therapy in a single device. While TENS uses mild electrical impulses to block pain signals from reaching the brain and releases endorphins for drug-free pain relief (1)(2), EMS has several beneficial functions to help a sore low back from strengthening the muscles to improving joint pain and swelling (3).
Besides easing lower back pain, a big tick in the “plus” column for PainPod and Hidow is that they can also help with other day-to-day niggles from period pain (4) to tension headaches (5). Additionally, your device can be used to gently massage muscles after a workout, improve blood circulation, and maintain or increase the range of motion in joints such as knees and elbows (6), and after a long day on your feet, there’s the bonus of using it for a foot massage.
For more information about the various PainPod and Hidow machines and accessories, click here.
- Vance, et al. Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence. Pain Management. 3: 197-209, 2014
- Guild, D.G. Mechanical therapy for low back pain. 39(3): p. 511-6, 2012
- Kwon, DR. et al. Short-term micro-current electrical neuromuscular stimulation to improve muscle function in the elderly: A randomised, double-blinded, sham-controlled clinical trial. Medicine. 96:26, 2017
- Barbosa Mde. Evaluation of pain thresholds across the menstrual cycle using TENS. 68(7): p. 901-8, 2013
- Classification of TENS to treat headache. 79(128): p. 37946-8, 2014
- Taylor, et al. The impact of neuromuscular electrical stimulation on recovery after intensive, muscle damaging, maximal speed training in professional team sports players. J Sci Med Sport. 2015 May;18(3):328-32
Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care report: https://www.safetyandquality.gov.au/about-us/latest-news/media-releases/novel-approach-break-cycle-low-back-pain#:~:text=Back%20problems%20and%20back%20pain,five%20presentations%20to%20emergency%20departments