You were in a car crash, and your back was seriously injured. You’ve spent months doing everything the doctors have asked or suggested, but neither physical therapy nor muscle relaxers seem to help. You’re worried about getting hooked on high-powered narcotics, but you’re also afraid that you’re never going to be free of your pain again.
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS unit) or a spinal cord stimulator might be the next step. While every situation is unique, knowing more about these options can help you bring the subject up with your doctor.
What’s a TENS unit?
A TENS unit is basically a small box that is attached to tiny sticky electrode pads via little wires. The pads are placed on your back, and the unit uses the electrical current to stimulate your sensory nerves in a way that helps close the brain’s “pain gates” and give you relief.
Typically, patients first experience these in physical therapy or a chiropractor’s office. That way, they can see if it’s something that works for them. While some people don’t get any benefit from them, others see up to a 40% reduction in their pain for several hours at a time.
What’s a spinal cord stimulator?
When nonsurgical interventions don’t work, you may want to try a spinal cord stimulator. These are sometimes referred to as “internal TENS units” because they work the same way – only the electrodes are placed in the epidural space between your spinal cord and your vertebrae. The generator is also implanted under the skin, somewhat like a pacemaker, while you manipulate the machine with an external remote.
The unfortunate reality is that back pain is very complex and no two patients are alike. You may have to undergo numerous different trials and treatments seeking relief. None of these is cheap, and some may not even be covered by insurance. If you have spinal pain because of a negligent driver’s mistake, find out more about your right to compensation – including what it takes to get your medical bills covered so you can get adequate pain relief.