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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

Electrotherapy for Back Pain: How It Helps in Addressing the Condition

A man clutching his pained lower back

Back pain affects millions of people. It can cause significant discomfort and impact daily activities. Fortunately, there are several treatment methods that people can use to help with backaches. One of them is using electrotherapy devices. Electrotherapy for back pain works by triggering mechanisms for pain relief. It can trigger the pain gate mechanism to block pain signals from reaching the brain. It can also induce the release of endorphins and improve blood circulation.

There are various types of electrotherapy devices available for people who wish to alleviate their backaches. Learning the different types and their effects can help the individual decide which one to use. Nevertheless, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended before using one to ensure safety. Moreover, they may advise on which device to choose and how to use them for optimal results. This article will present information about electrotherapy, how it works, and its potential risks.

What is Electrotherapy for Back Pain?

Electrotherapy for back pain refers to using electrical stimulation to treat backaches. These are typically non-invasive techniques that use low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate nerves or muscles of the targeted area. This can cause pain relief and help the healing process. Many use this with other treatment modalities, such as exercise, to improve their condition.

Several types of electrotherapy can help with backaches. Hence, it is crucial to know the differences to receive the maximum benefits of the treatments. It can also help ensure safety. Electrotherapy devices have specific ranges meant for each of their functions. Some electrotherapy devices are available for purchase without prescriptions. Some devices can also be self-administered, making them convenient for backaches.

Often, there are wired and wireless options for electrotherapy devices. Traditional devices use lead cables to connect the electrode pads and the main unit. On the other hand, wireless units utilise Bluetooth to link the electrodes and the controller. There are also devices that allow users to adjust the settings to customise their electrical stimulation therapy.

Types of Electrotherapy

  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS): delivers low-voltage electric currents using externally applied electrodes. It provides temporary relief by targeting the sensory nerves to block pain signals.
  • Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS): uses high-frequency stimulation to trigger involuntary muscle contractions and increase blood flow to the target muscle groups. It can help rehabilitate muscles from injuries.
  • Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES): often used to help patients recover from strokes and spinal cord injuries. This uses electrical currents to stimulate paralysed muscles and help activate movements.
  • Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (NMES): targets the nerves in the muscles to help with recovery and return to normal function.

A woman wearing an iTENS electrode on her lower back

How Does Electrotherapy for Back Pain Work?

Using electrotherapy for back pain can trigger mechanisms of the body that can reduce the overall pain level and help with recovery. The processes triggered mainly depend on the frequency and intensity used during treatment. Some machines allow users to customise their therapy session by providing adjustable settings or preset program modes.

Generally, high-frequency stimulation can trigger the spinal nerve cells to block the transmission of pain signals. This is the pain gate mechanism described in the Gate Control Theory of Pain. It mainly helps with acute pain conditions since it can take effect quickly. Moreover, this setting can increase blood flow to the target area. This can help relax sore muscles and reduce muscle spasms.

Meanwhile, using low-frequency stimulation induces the release of endorphins. These hormones are natural painkillers that bind to opioid receptors, resulting in lower pain intensity. Endorphins can also help reduce inflammation and stress. It can help improve the range of motion and the quality of life. This setting is ideal for chronic pain conditions.


There are several benefits to using electrotherapeutic treatments for acute or chronic pain patients. Firstly, many of them are non-invasive. This removes the risks of infections and other complications from procedures that involve incisions or injections. Secondly, they are drug-free. In particular, TENS can help individuals reduce their dependency on pain medications.

Thirdly, using electrotherapy is complementary to conservative treatment methods like physical therapy. Fourthly, electric stimulation is not addictive. Some are even safe to use multiple times daily. Lastly, electrotherapy can provide targeted relief using proper electrode placement. Besides backaches, it can help with neck pain, shoulder pain, and aches in other body parts.

A man holding his lower back

Potential Risks and Effects of Electrotherapy for Back Pain

As with most medical treatments, there are potential risks when using electrotherapy for back pain. The user may make preparations before starting their therapy session to prevent this. Nevertheless, it is essential to be aware of them so the user can promptly take action if these adverse effects appear.

Some may experience allergic reactions to the adhesives or the materials of the electrode pads. Using hypoallergenic pads can help prevent this. The user should also check from time to time if any reactions form on the skin during their first session. People may also experience tingling sensations during their treatment. This is a normal effect, and using lower intensities can help reduce them.

There are also possible risks of developing skin irritation or burns when using electrotherapy machines for long periods. Hence, the user must follow the prescribed durations and take breaks between sessions to avoid this. Lastly, some have contraindications to electrical stimulation. Those with heart disease, epilepsy, or seizures should avoid electrotherapy.

Preparations Before Starting the Therapy

To ensure safety before starting electrotherapy, the individual should consult a medical professional. They may assess the overall health condition and help determine which treatments will suit the person best. They may also advise on how to properly use the device.

Moreover, the user should study the instruction manual of the device. This will allow them to understand how to properly use their machine and prevent mishaps. In addition, they should check the condition of the machine and its accessories before starting the session. Lastly, they can wash their skin to remove oils, lotions, and dirt that may affect pad adhesion.


Electrotherapy for back pain is an effective method of pain relief used by many people. It can alleviate discomfort, reduce muscle spasms, and improve the range of motion by using low-voltage electric currents. These electric pulses can trigger the pain gate mechanism and the release of endorphins. It can also improve blood circulation, speeding up the healing process. Individuals may consult a medical professional to help them ascertain which device would work best for their condition.

Moreover, individuals should learn the potential risks of using electrotherapy devices. This allows them to avoid or quickly remedy any adverse effects that may occur. Learning how to use their device is one method of preparing for their therapy session. Checking the condition of their unit and the accessories is another helpful preparation step. Those who are interested in using a wireless TENS machine for their backaches may consider the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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