KCUR News
12:22 pm
Tue January 5, 2010

Review Finds Lower Back Pain Treatment Ineffective

Kansas City, MO – A popular treatment for lower chronic back pain doesn't appear to work. That's according to a local neurologist, whose findings are part of the American Academy of Neurology's newly issued practice guidelines.

Trancutanious Electric Nerve Stimulation, also known as TENS, is a portable device that's applied to the skin around an area of pain. It then sends electrical currents through those nerves. The idea is that such stimulation could block pain signals to the brain.

Dr. Richard Dubinsky is a Neurology Professor at KU Medical Center and lead author of a new scientific review of TENS. He says there could be a potential for the device to work based on some theories, but he found that actual evidence is lacking.

"The most amazing thing was the dearth of scientific literature proving that it works or proving that it doesn't work," said Dr. Dubinsky. "The standards by the FDA for the approval of a device are rather simple. It has to be shown to be just as safe as what's currently available. However for a drug or biological to be approved, they have to show that they work. So it's a much lower threshold for a device such as TENS."

Dr. Dubinsky says his review also found that TENS is not effective in alleviating chronic lower back pain, which is a pretty common ailment in the U.S.

The American Academy of Neurology is now recommending that TENS not be used for that.

In an editorial follow-up to Dubinsky's review, some doctors wrote that for some patients with lower back pain, TENS still may be a good therapeutic alternative to pain medication, despite the weak evidence.

Dr. Dubinsky also says there is limited evidence TENS is useful for diabetic nerve pain.

Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

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