We all may have suffered from back pain at some point or the other. Now a new guideline by the American Academy of Neurology reveals that a widely used device for pain therapy is apparently not recommended for those suffering from chronic low-back pain. The device namely transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) is supposedly not effective.

The widely used pain therapy encompasses a portable device. The new guidelines suggest it ineffective in the treatment of pain that has apparently persisted for three months or more. According to the guideline, TENS could nevertheless be effective in treating diabetic neuropathy. However more research is required to compare the device to other treatments for this kind of pain.

The guideline indicates that analysis on TENS has resulted in conflicting results for chronic low-back pain. As part of the guideline, the experts reviewed all the evidence that pointed towards low-back pain which lasted three months or longer. Seemingly, acute low-back pain was not examined. If analyses up until now are believed, then TENS may not be helping those with chronic low-back pain.

All the findings except one reportedly excluded people with known causes of low-back pain. This included pinched nerve, severe scoliosis, severe spondylolisthesis or obesity. The one research that observed low-back pain linked with known conditions, TENS was found to be ineffective. Supposedly, the only specific neurologic cause of chronic low-back pain that included examination of TENS was multiple sclerosis. Here also, TENS was not found to help.

“The strongest evidence showed that there is no benefit for people using TENS for chronic low-back pain,” mentioned guideline author Richard M. Dubinsky, MD, MPH, of Kansas University Medical Center in Kansas City and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “Doctors should use clinical judgment regarding TENS use for chronic low-back pain. People who are currently using TENS for their low-back pain should discuss these findings with their doctors.”

Dubinsky further elucidated that there seemed to be good evidence of TENS being effective in the treatment of diabetic nerve pain. TENS is known to include a portable, pocket-sized unit that applies a mild electrical current to the nerves through electrodes. It has been used for pain relief in various disorders over the years. While most researchers are clueless about how TENS may provide relief for pain, one theory suggests that nerves can only carry one signal at a time. Supposedly, the TENS stimulation could confuse the brain, consequently blocking the real pain signal from getting through.

The guideline is published in the December 30, 2009, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.