Shocking the bejeezus out of my lower back led me to the fastest recovery I've experienced yet from periodic bouts of debilitating back pain. For me, this inexpensive TENS unit is a winner, and was as effective as a higher-priced comparison unit I tried.
The heavy rains in California led to a bumper crop of dandelions growing up between the cement slabs that make up my back patio. My landscaper has been having scheduling issues, so I mistakenly re-injured my lower back by pulling weeds.
The next 72 hours were a blend of drug-fueled trip through Wonkaland, and tear-filled carpool driving for my 10-year-old gymnast. The tears were mine, I didn't yell at any of the kids.
Around 10am on Sunday morning I wandered out on my back patio. The patio is largely an abandoned, near empty cement slab with only my dwarf Fuji apple tree growing in a pot (thanks, Joel Johnson for planting it when my back was bad!), and my woodshed, wherein a family of foxes occasionally resides. I looked for my dog Nemo (a Great Pyrenees), who likes to hang out back there. Suddenly I realized I could not see my 120-pound dog over the mass of overgrown dandelions. I'd called the landscaper several times and he just wasn't showing up. "Fuck it!" thought I. Without giving thought to the consequences, I grabbed a pair of gardening gloves, and defoliated. Some 45 minutes later I could see my dog, and wandered freely around my empty yard. I felt fine and went about my day.
Monday morning I woke up and knew I was in trouble. I felt like I had a massive charlie horse in the back of my left thigh, and my ass was stiff as hell. The moment I tried to stand up, I knew I was in for a fun few days. My leg didn't want to support me, and my cane was downstairs. I hadn't needed the cane in many months.
I hobbled downstairs, found my fine derby handled mahogany zombie basher, then made my way to the spice cabinet. I have no idea why I keep my pills with the spices, but I do. I had a lot of work to do and still thought I'd be able to function, so I only took around 30mg of codeine, added some naproxen and headed to my stand-up desk, sitting down was going to be a no-no for a while.
Standing at the desk lasted about 15 minutes. I returned to the kitchen spice rack and added some Flexeril to the picture, and smoked a bowl of high-CBD medical marijuana. Despite these interventions, within 30 minutes I was no longer to stand at my desk. I decided to go lie down in bed, with my legs elevated. On my way upstairs I noticed a TENS unit, one of those shock your muscles into submission things, still in its box, sort of calling to me. I'd blown it off as voodoo when I received it some time ago. Never opened it, but by now I was willing to try pretty much anything for relief.
I spent the day in an imaginary paradise where fuzzy animals talked to me, and The Expanse Season Two is always on. Day became night and I stayed in a medicated bliss, hoping beyond hope that I'd wake up with the muscle relaxants having done their work and the spasms halted. At some point in the night, friends texted trying to get me to play video games. I texted back some drug addled statement about how "Jason is not home, I am Cyclobenzaprine!" and passed back out.
When I actually woke up I felt worse, rather than better. The TENS unit continued to call to me. I looked at my calendar and saw I had a lot of carpool duty in the afternoon, and I hadn't seen my daughter in several days.
I needed to be coherent and able to drive a car on some really twisty, awfully maintained, and wet from rain roads. Painkillers were not an option.
Depending on what seated positon my body can take in the car, I switch between a very low recent model Porsche and a late 1980's VW Vanagon. I couldn't even get into the VW. I was able to slide into the Porsche and adjusted the seat as best I could. 6 miles of pot holes and washed out, poorly maintained county roads later I was squeezing my left thigh, crying and than realized my right leg was starting to hurt from the strain of compensating for the left. After around 90 minutes of kid ferrying, I had to call my ex-wife and ask for help. She was able to take get the kids after gym, I could return home to the warm, fuzzy comfort of muscle relaxants, codeine, and pot. Things hurt so much I considered whiskey, but just had a beer instead. It did not take long for me to pass out.
Waking up on Wednesday things felt no better or worse than Tuesday. I was beginning to get REALLY worried. I hadn't had an episode this bad the past few years, nor had I experienced pain for so long– three days and counting. Evidently, pulling some fucking weeds is really hard work. A couple of friends on Facebook suggested trying a TENS unit. One of them was Xeni. That gift TENS unit I'd blown off and ignored was really trying to get out of its box.
By mid-morning that day, I was just at the end of my rope. It was my daughter's 10th birthday that night, and we had a party planned. I couldn't get loopy, because I was going to be driving kids to and fro again. I picked up the TENS unit and felt… fear. What if I hurt myself worse? Hell, the TENS thingie was probably going to need to be charged up, so what could it hurt to just open it and look.
Even after having sat there for months, the unit was charged up and ready to go. I looked at the manual, decided there wasn't much to it and slapped some electrodes on. It was a matter of simply plugging a mini-RCA jack into the unit, and sticking the pads to my thigh and ass. I notionally targeted acupressure points. Then, I laid down on my stomach and turned the unit on and hit go. Nothing happened.
I looked at the unit and while I'd set it to a pounding/kneading effect, the power was set way down to its lowest setting. I cranked it up to the top, like you do, and hit the go button again.
I WAS IMMEDIATELY IN SO MUCH FUCKING PAIN I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT. HOLY SHIT! I WAS ZAPPING MY SUPER SORE MUSCLES INTO INSANE CONTRACTIONS.
Rapidly I shut it off. Panting, I realised that if this unit could spasmodically launch me 3-feet off the bed, maybe a lower setting would really help my back. I dialled it down to around 30% and hit electrofy again. This time there was a decent buzzing and vibrating going on in the muscle, and it ran about a 15-second pattern of zaps that conducted pretty much along my sciatic never between the two electrodes. After about five minutes I felt really, really good. After about 20 minutes I switch the unit off and stood up. Flexibility and strength in my left leg went from about 50% of normal back to around 85%. I was feeling amazingly functional.
I tried the other leg, and it really worked wonders there, as the right was, again, likely just sore from compensating. Running the good leg after the bad leg, however, returned some pain to the bad leg. The shocks are not relaxing and while it's localized to the area between your electrodes, just being zapped caused some tensing across the board. I'd say after that first session I ended up back around 80%.
Thursday I woke up feeling a lot better. I ran the unit again, this time good leg, then bad, and felt almost back-to-normal but stiff. I didn't need drugs at all, and booked a deep-tissue massage for later in the day as I felt like it'd be no problem to live through one now.
By Friday morning there was only a lingering feeling that I had been hurt at all. The crazy, drug addled Monday and Tuesday never seem to have happened. Today, just one week after waking up in crazy insane pain, I'm feeling pretty much back to my normal. The TENS unit is the only thing that changed during this recovery, and I'm 1-2 weeks ahead of where I think I should be.