Using TENS Units for Back Pain – What You Should Know3 min read

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Ewan Hollander

Just sharing things that interest me in the hopes that they interest others as well

When it comes to battling back pain, many people are on the lookout for non-invasive and pharmacological-free remedies they can use at home. Sometimes these include heat and ice therapy, topical aids, massage, acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, and spinal manipulation by a chiropractor. If you struggle with back and neck pain, you may have additionally heard of using TENS units while on your hunt for the ultimate pain remedy. If you are curious what TENS units are, how to find them, and how they are used, don’t miss this quick guide:

What are TENS Units?

The acronym TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation which is simply a fancy way of saying low-voltage electrical currents for pain relief. A TENS unit is typically going to feature a small battery-powered device that can be turned on and adjusted to send electrical currents through wires to electrodes stuck to your back. This type of electrotherapy is believed to stimulate nerve endings and diminish the sensation of pain in the back caused by spasming and inflamed muscles. It is also suggested that light nerve stimulation like you get with a TENS unit also cues the body to produce feel-good hormones called endorphins. By increasing voltage and frequency, back pain sufferers can tailor the electrical currents to the area and severity of their back pain.

Do TENS Units Work?

Scientific research fluctuates on how effective this type of electrotherapy is on back pain, however, growing anecdotal evidence suggests it can temporarily relieve sore and tense back muscles as well as taking an over-the-counter NSAID. Tens unit reviews from people who utilize electrotherapy praise this accessible and cost-effective back pain solution. Some TENS units can connect digitally to your smartphone, others combine transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation with electrical muscle stimulation, and others still offer varying massage modes. You can usually find TENS units in your local pharmacy, at a big box store, or online here:

How do I use a TENS Unit?

Curious how to get started with a TENS unit? They are typically portable, discreet, and easy to function. Depending on the one you try, you will want to first read through the instructions carefully and note the electric impulse settings which you will have to adjust. You may even discuss the best settings for you with your healthcare provider like a physical therapist or chiropractor.

TENS units come with pads that you stick to the areas of your back which are most painful and inflamed. Those pads (electrodes) connect to wires which connect to the power device. You will adjust your settings and turn the device on. You should experience a tingling followed by immediate pain relief as the low-voltage currents run through your muscles. When it comes to using a TENS unit, don’t forget these best practices:

  • Always read the manual and verify your settings with a professional

  • Don’t fall asleep with a TENS unit on and attached to you

  • Don’t spill water or go near it when you have electrodes attached to you

  • Adjust settings slowly to avoid shocking the muscles

  • Stop and talk to your doctor if you feel muscle spasming, not just tingling, when using a TENS unit

  • Apply electrodes to clean skin (wipe with alcohol swab), and tape down with medical tape if they don’t stick

  • Avoid overusing the TENS unit on the same spots

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Ewan Hollander

Just sharing things that interest me in the hopes that they interest others as well