Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Back Pain Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

TENS and Electrothermal Therapy for Pain Management

The most common form of electrical stimulation used for pain management is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy, which provides short-term pain relief. Electrical nerve stimulation and electrothermal therapy are used to relieve pain associated with various conditions, including back pain. Intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET) is a treatment option for people with low back pain resulting from intervertebral disc problems.

TENS Therapy for Pain Management

In TENS therapy for pain management, a small, battery-operated device delivers low-voltage electrical current through the skin via electrodes placed near the source of pain. The electricity from the electrodes stimulates nerves in the affected area and sends signals to the brain that "scramble" normal pain perception. TENS is not painful and may be effective therapy to mask pain such as diabetic neuropathy. However, TENS for chronic low back pain is not effective and cannot be recommended, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) now says.

Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy (IDET)

Intervertebral discs act as cushions between the vertebrae. Sometimes the discs can become damaged and cause pain. IDET uses heat to modify the nerve fibers of a spinal disc and to destroy pain receptors in the area. In this procedure, a wire called an electrothermal catheter is placed through an incision in the disc. An electrical current passes through the wire, heating a small outer portion of the disc to a temperature of 90 degrees Celsius. IDET is performed as an outpatient procedure while the patient is awake and under a local anesthesia. 

Early studies indicated that some patients may have continued pain relief for up to six months or longer. The long-term effects of this procedure on the disc, however, have not been determined. 

Although a later systematic review of the research found that evidence did not support the effectiveness of IDET, the procedure is still being performed and studies are ongoing. 

Radiofrequency Discal Nucleoplasty

Radiofrequency discal nucleoplasty is a newer procedure which utilizes a radio frequency probe instead of heating wire to disintegrate a small portion of the central disc material. The result of this intervention is partial decompression of the disc, which may help relieve pain caused by bulging discs pressing on nearby spinal nerve roots.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on March 21, 2014
Next Article:

Today on WebMD

back pain
Article
woman with lower back pain
Quiz
 
man on cellphone
Slideshow
acupuncture needles in woman's back
Slideshow
 

low back pain
Video
pain in brain and nerves
Slideshow
 
Chronic Pain Healtcheck
Health Check
break at desk
Article
 

Woman holding lower back
Slideshow
Weight Loss Surgery
Slideshow
 
lumbar spine
Slideshow
back pain
Article