This is the second in a special series of articles that I plan to run on new health-improving technologies for busy people.
Back pain afflicts millions of Americans every day, is one of the most common reasons that people miss work, and, is, according to at least one study, the leading cause of disability. As such, I wanted to share with my readers information about three products that I have personally found to help alleviate back pain at various times.
Human backs are complicated structures comprised of bones, muscles, ligaments, joints, and other tissue, any of which can be harmed by disease or injured, thereby inflicting various levels of discomfort. So, before diagnosing and treating yourself for any form of significant back pain, you should see a doctor. That said, when it comes to the common complaint of "tight muscles" (which may occur on their own or emerge as the result of other back problems), I have found the following items to be of value:
1. TENS - Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation machines treat back pain by sending small electrical pulses along nerve strands near the skin, which, at least in theory, helps reduce pain by suppressing the nerves' transmission of pain signals to the brain - signals, without which, of course, humans do not "feel" pain. TENS electrical stimulation is also believed to cause human bodies to produce higher levels of endorphins - chemicals which also help our bodies reduce the level of pain that we feel.
There have been conflicting studies about the effectiveness of TENS - some of which strongly discount its efficacy - but many users swear that the technology does deliver at least some level of relief, and, such has been my experience with various units at multiple points in my life. To use a TENS unit a person simply attaches sticky two electrode pads near or on a region of the back that hurts (without crossing the spine), connects those pads by special wires to the TENS control unit, and adjusts the electrical current via the unit. Some TENS units are sold online, some are sold in stores, and, yet, others require a prescription, and, of course, they can be used to treat muscular pain in other areas of the body as well. Feature sets vary widely by model - some units come with pre-configured electrical stimulation patterns for various parts of the body, others are much simpler. Always consult a professional before beginning to use TENS, and learn about the relevant safety issues before sending electricity through parts of your body.
2. Percussion Massagers - I tested Pado's Pure-Wave CM7 Massager - which offers both percussion and vibration; for tight muscles, the percussion - which presses and pulsates - can help loosen muscles in the impacted zone, and, thereby, reduce pain caused by tightness. The device is not intended to deliver the results of physical therapy if someone needs the latter, but the percussion did help me with less serious muscular tightness. The unit comes with several heads that can be interchanged in order to optimally target different parts of the body (you probably wouldn't want to massage your scalp or knee, for example, with a head intended for use on the thick muscles on the back), and includes a vibration mode that, according to the instructions, can be used to treat the face as well.
3. Manual Pressure Massagers - I tested the Trigger Point Massager by Backjoy. This device made of hard plastic allows people to easily press on tight muscles in their backs so as to loosen up the relevant aching muscles. While such a device may seem low tech, its design is optimized to simplify the process of an individual applying pressure to his or her back muscles without the assistance of anyone else, and without a motor. I have used the Backjoy device on several occasions - and, as should be obvious in the case of a non-machine, it works exactly as expected.
Of course, a manual device does not offer the same features or ease of use as an electric percussion massager, and does require more effort to apply pressure, but, it is less expensive, and, for some people, there may be occasions when having a manual device may be beneficial.
The Bottom Line
There is no miracle cure for back pain, but the three types of devices I mentioned above have all helped me on multiple occasions. Each one attacks discomfort in a different way - for some people, a single one of these products may deliver total relief, for others, combining the devices' varying approaches may yield better results. And, yes, it is possible, that for some people none of them will deliver sufficiently noticeable relief. But, if my experience is an indication, all three should be on your radar if you are dealing with back pain. As I said before, however, check with a doctor before starting treatment.
Preventing Back Pain in the First Place
Of course, the best way to treat back pain is to prevent it in the first place. As such, here are some recommendations from the American Chiropractic Association as to how to protect your back: