Pervasive pain endured by adults is all too common, and seniors make up a large part of that population. Of the 7,601 adults age 65 and older who were interviewed for a study published in the official journal of the International Association for the Study of Pain, over 50% experienced distressing pain. Among those reporting pain, almost 75% reported discomfort in multiple sites of the body such as the hips, knees and back. All the subjects of the study were Medicare recipients.
How Does the TENS Unit Work?
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. A TENS unit may be used to treat back pain by using a low-voltage electric current. The unit itself is usually a small device that operates on batteries. The device connects to a belt tied to electrodes that conduct a current from the equipment to electrodes attached to the skin.
This procedure evolved a 1960s theory that demonstrated when nerves are stimulated, a mechanism in the spinal cord, known as a gate mechanism, can remove the feeling of pain. There is another theory that endorphins, which are natural pain mitigation hormones, are produced from the nerve stimulation. For back pain, the electrodes are positioned on the skin where the patient is experiencing the ache, causing impulses to move along nerve fibers and cause tingling. The remedy typically has an immediate effect but is short-lived.
Although TENS is generally considered to be safe when administered appropriately, there are specific populations that are strongly discouraged from using it, including, but not limited to, individuals with a pacemaker and women who are pregnant. If your doctor recommends a TENS unit to treat your pain, make sure you review the list of safety precautions from your practitioner.
Medicare Benefits for TENS Units
Although the device may be a solution for individuals suffering from back pain, research studies have not been able to produce consistent results. The lack of strong evidence in support of TENS may explain why, in 2012, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), announced that Medicare benefits would no longer cover TENS treatments for chronic lower back pain, stating that it is not a reasonable and necessary treatment for this condition. However, the device may be covered under certain situations, so it is advisable to explore this further with your health practitioner.
Medicare Coverage for Pain Management
Medicare Part B (medical insurance) helps cover a wide range of medically necessary services and supplies, including treatment prescribed to address pain management. These services may include screenings to determine the source of your pain, behavioral health integration services, physical therapy, occupational therapy and manual manipulation of the spine if your doctor deems the treatment as medically necessary.
Part D prescription drug coverage may help cover the cost of medications prescribed by your doctor to help alleviate your pain. If you have Original Medicare, you can enroll in a stand-alone Prescription Drug Plan. Many Medicare recipients choose to get their Part A and Part B benefits through a Medicare Advantage plan. Many MA plans include prescription drug coverage.
If you are experiencing consistent pain, discuss your concerns with your physician as soon as possible. Research has shown that back issues are a widespread problem and that those suffering from this ailment incur a much higher risk of facing other injuries. Back pain can make it hard to function and may contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression. Rather than ignore the pain, seek treatment early on, verify the coverage available through your Medicare benefits, and follow the pain management program offered by your personal medical practitioner.