How to Use TENS to Help With Back Pain

6 min read

If you've suffered from chronic pain, you might have already researched alternative ways of managing your pain, such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS. How does a TENS unit help back pain, though? This guide reviews how these devices work and how you may be able to manage your pain with regular TENS therapy.

Causes and Types of Back Pain

There are many causes of back pain, ranging from stress to injuries to chronic health conditions. When you're suffering in this way, a doctor may want to run tests to see which type of back pain you're experiencing.

There are two types of back pain that you might be diagnosed with:


This is a type of back pain that comes from an injury to one of the vertebrae in your spine. There are a number of potential causes, such as an infection, stress fracture, chronic disease, or an accident. It's mostly characterized by pain located in the lower back that radiates into the buttocks and legs and can be accompanied by muscle tightness in the affected areas.

Doctors often treat this injury with a combination of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and physical therapy to reduce swelling and loosen the muscles. This is done to relieve stress on the nerves in the spine, but it may not be enough. In some instances, surgery may be advised to widen the spinal canal and fuse the spine.

Cervical Radiculopathy

This type of back pain is caused by compression of the nerve roots in the cervical vertebrae. It can cause numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness in the injured area and the limbs connected to the affected nerves. One common cause of this injury is a herniated disc, but other causes include degenerative diseases, arthritis and trauma to the spine.

In addition to numbness and tingling, people with cervical radiculopathy may experience sharp, shooting pain through their arms, chest, neck or legs. The pain is treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs along with physical therapy.

In the event that over-the-counter medications aren't enough for either cause of back pain, your doctor may prescribe steroidal injections to relieve the pain. Just as with spondylolisthesis, surgery might be necessary to relieve the tension on the nerves causing the pain.

How Does a TENS Unit Help Back Pain?

While studies are currently ongoing to determine the effectiveness of TENS therapy for back pain, some of these have shown that participants felt relief when using a TENS device to help manage their back pain. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and was first used to help people manage pain in the 1960s. The way it works is by sending electrical impulses into the nerves to block pain signals.

TENS therapy for lower back pain involves placing pads over the tense muscles to stimulate the production of endorphins that block nerve signals for pain and discomfort. In addition to potentially alleviating pain, the therapy may relax the muscles and promote healing so that people can regain their full range of motion. When combined with physical therapy, many people have experienced faster healing and better pain management when dealing with chronic pain.

There are many types of TENS devices, including machines that allow you to manually place the pads where you need them. Some devices have predetermined pad placement, such as belts used for TENS therapy for back spasms.

When using a TENS device, you're able to control the intensity of the electrical impulses. Everyone reacts differently, so it's best to start at a low setting and gradually increase it until it begins to help you manage your pain. You can also adjust the frequency and duration of each pulse.

It's a good idea to follow the advice of a medical professional when treating back pain, so don't stop taking any prescribed medications unless your doctor directs you to do so.

Where to Place the TENS Pads

TENS units work by emitting electrical impulses into your nerves, so the best place to put the pads is close to the source of pain. If a specific area or muscle is tight or achy, it's a good idea to place a pad on each side of the area. It's important not to place the pads too close together, so keep them at least an inch apart and know that the farther apart they are, the weaker the treatment will be.

Some TENS units come with more than two pads. There are two types of pads: channel one and channel two. The electrical impulses are sent through channel one electrodes in the direction of channel two pads, so make sure you pair the pads properly.

Tips for Effective TENS Placement

If you're sensitive to TENS therapy, spacing the pads out over a greater distance can help lower the intensity. It's okay to try placing the pads in different locations until you find the placement that works best for you. If you have pain in multiple locations, using a device with more pads allows you to isolate more than one muscle at a time.

It doesn't matter if you place the pads above and below the muscle or on each side of it if the aching area is located between channel one and channel two pads.

How Often to Use TENS Therapy for Back Pain

You shouldn't use a TENS device for more than an hour at a time. Most people use it up to four times a week, and it can help manage pain for up to four hours.

Other Ways in Which TENS Machines Work

While TENS device are useful for back pain, TENS units can help with pain from the following conditions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Shoulder and neck injuries
  • Chronic pain disorders
  • Arthritis pain
  • Fibromyalgia

Where to Find a TENS Unit for Sale

Caputron offers a collection of TENS devices so that you can find the one that works best for you. Our devices have helped many people manage their chronic pain without the use of steroidal or narcotic medications. Search our TENS units today.

Disclaimer: The studies and findings above should not be treated as concrete medical advice. Some studies may be ongoing or require further research. To make an informed, reliable decision regarding TENS units and treatment, ensure that you consult with a healthcare professional experienced in this technology and suitable back pain solutions.



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