Electrotherapy may be used to treat back pain related to injuries or trauma to the spinal nerves, as well as a host of other musculoskeletal conditions that affect the muscles. Electrotherapy, also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) may help to treat a patient's pain or orthopedic dysfunction when one of two things occurs:
- Muscular de-conditioning: Muscular de-conditioning occurs when the muscles weaken, either because of disuse or some type of nerve injury in which there is a disruption of the electrical signals telling the muscles to move. Simply put, when our muscles are not moving or being told to move, they will atrophy and possibly die. No matter what type of injury a person suffers from, they muscle keep their muscle moving or stimulated, or the mass of the muscle could quickly shrink. Neuromuscular electrical stimulation, delivered either to the affected muscles, or the nerves supplying those muscles, may have the benefit of preventing muscular atrophy or in rebuilding muscle mass that has been lost.
- Pain Management: The targeted delivery to the injured tissues of the body or spinal nerves near the spinal cord may have the effect of blocking the transmission of pain signals. Electrotherapy may be effective in treating pain because the electrical signals it generates activate the opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Other pain management treatments that activate these same opioid receptors in the central nervous system include narcotic pain medications such as morphine, Tylenol with Codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycontin. Only with this type of treatment, there is no risk of overdose, dependence, or addiction. The electrodes that transmit these electrical signals are placed over the areas that are painful as well as near areas of the spine that activate the opioid receptors.
Method of delivery: So how does this energy get to the muscles, soft tissues, and nerves to block pain or rebuild muscle? Actually, the technology is relatively simple. These units include a:
Spinal Cord Stimulation: In the majority of cases, the electrode therapy system includes one as described above. In a much smaller percentage of cases, a nerve stimulation device may be implanted inside the body to deliver constant pain blocking electrical stimulation in order to treat severe chronic pain disorders. These include degenerative conditions that leave patients in constant pain and in which the patient has received insufficient pain relief from other types of treatments. In these cases, a generator, which may be recharged wirelessly in a medical office, is permanently implanted inside a patient's abdominal area, pelvic area, or buttocks, from which a wire is threaded through the body and towards one of the main spinal nerves. Once the device is in place, doctors may experiment with the electrical frequencies until the patient experiences significant chronic back pain relief.
- The Electric Generator: An electric generator powered by either a rechargeable battery or wall unit power source.
- A wire running from the generator to the interface with the patient (electrode).
- Electrode: an electrode end to the wire connects to the patient as an adhesive pad (patch) or by tine needles through the skin. Skin irritation related to the adhesive pad is the most common type of complication related to these treatments.
Often, patients with chronic back pain have complex conditions that involve more than one cause of their pain. Often, cases of back pain often involve compression or constriction of one or more of the spinal nerves, which supply our muscles as well as the rest of our musculoskeletal system with information. When one or more of these spinal nerves becomes pressed on, we may experience weakness or the loss of feeling in these muscles and tissues. This weakness and loss of feeling is serious, and may involve the atrophy and possible death of the cells in these muscles and structures. Eventually, this atrophy of the tissues may be irreversible. Many doctors and therapists use electrotherapy to slow or reverse atrophy of the muscles related to nerve damage.