TENS Unit for Neck and Shoulder Pain

9 min read

Whether you're being treated for an injury or a chronic pain disorder, you might be concerned about taking powerful medications to alleviate it. Some of the most potent pain medications come with serious side effects that can interfere with your ability to operate machinery, concentrate at work, or live your life normally. Using a TENS unit for neck and shoulder pain may allow you to manage your pain with less powerful medications that aren't habit-forming.

This guide covers how a TENS unit could help with neck and shoulder pain. Here is a quick preview of what's covered:

Is a TENS Unit Good for Neck and Shoulder Pain?

There's no definitive answer to this question without additional information. TENS treatments may help some people, but might not be right for others. There are some medical conditions that may make you want to think twice about using a TENS unit:

  • If you've been diagnosed with cancer, most medical professionals advise against TENS treatment;
  • Pregnant women may have complications because the electrical impulses may be felt by an unborn child;
  • If you have a pacemaker or are diagnosed with heart disease, this treatment is riskier;
  • Using a TENS unit without first receiving a medical diagnosis that identifies the source of your pain is not advised;
  • TENS treatment is not suitable for people diagnosed with epilepsy.

While a TENS unit isn't right for some conditions, it may be helpful if you're dealing with muscle pain, recovering from an injury, managing pain from a pinched nerve and more. If you'd like to explore this treatment option, talk with your doctor first just to make sure that it's a viable option for your specific medical needs.

How Can a TENS Machine Help You with Neck and Shoulder Pain?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. In other words, it uses electrical impulses to stimulate nerves through diodes located in pads that are connected to the machine. This can contract and relax targeted muscles in the area you're experiencing pain and stimulate the nerves themselves.

The NCBI performed a study to see whether TENS treatment was effective as a treatment for neck and shoulder pain. The control group was given non-narcotic pain medication but didn't use a machine and 43% reported some pain relief. Of those that used a TENS unit, 73% reported an improvement.

This was significant enough to suggest that nerve stimulation can help, but the study also revealed one caveat. While people experiencing minor to moderate pain reported pain relief, a TENS unit alone wasn't enough to treat severe pain. Some medical conditions require the use of pain medications and other therapies in addition to any alternative options.

Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain

We can really feel at times that we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. The shoulder and neck area support your head and, when you're injured or feeling tense, it can lead to additional problems. The first response the brain tends to have to pain is to signal the immune system to respond. This may result in inflammation and irritation that makes the condition even worse as the body attempts to resolve the source of your pain.

Some of the top causes of neck and shoulder pain can include the following:

  • Overuse injuries resulting from exercise or physical work, using the phone or sitting with poor posture;
  • Medical conditions such as arthritis, cancer, meningitis or degenerative bone disease;
  • Injuries resulting from car accidents or workplace injuries involving trauma to the head or neck;
  • Herniated discs and bone spurs in the upper spine.

If you're experiencing frequent neck and shoulder pain, you should consult with a doctor before you begin any treatment program. Some options allow you to manage your pain without the use of opioid medications.

Is it Safe to Use a TENS Unit for Neck Pain?

If you're particularly concerned about using potentially addictive medications, you might wish to explore a TENS unit for neck and shoulder pain. When used properly, it's completely safe because it uses electrical impulses rather than actual electrical shocks to stimulate your muscles. There are a few things you need to consider before using your machine because improper use can lead to injury.

The TENS pads send impulses into your muscles that may cause them to contract or relax. If the correct muscles release their tension, it can help you manage your pain. Placing the TENS pads in the wrong locations can injure you by making the wrong muscles contract or sending impulses into your brain or nerves.

You shouldn't use a TENS unit anywhere on your head, near your throat or the sides of your neck. Read on to learn how to use the machine the proper way.

Where Do You Place TENS Pads for Neck Pain?

The first step is to find the perfect placement for the pads. You can place them on the lower neck on both sides of the spine. It may help to also place another two pads on your shoulder blades. Once you have the pads in place, start slowly.

Every person reacts to different levels of stimulation. If you're more sensitive, you can help reduce your pain at a lower level than someone who requires stronger impulses to achieve the same desired effect. You should play around with the strength of the pulse, the frequency and the width.

Once you find the perfect settings, it's much easier to use the machine the next time because you can begin at the same settings you used the last time. Another placement technique for the pads is to put one on each side of the area that's painful. Avoid putting a TENS pad directly over bones to reduce the risk of discomfort.

Can a TENS Unit Help with a Pinched Nerve in the Neck?

The right treatment for a pinched nerve requires knowing the cause. Pinched nerves are caused by a buildup of pressure surrounding the nerve. It can irritate the nerve and make it send pain signals to the brain. Other people experience tingling sensations or loss of feeling when they suffer from a pinched nerve.

If muscle tension is a contributing cause to your pinched nerve, you may be able to use a TENS machine to manage the pain. If the muscles contract and relax, they may release the pressure against the nerve and allow it to regain normal function. The TENS unit alone may not be enough to completely cure the problem, but it can certainly help if you're using it in addition to other treatment methods.

Another study showed that TENS machines may be able to help with pain but aren't likely to cure it. The pain reduction effects only last between five minutes and 24 hours.

How Do You Use a TENS Unit for Shoulder Pain?

Your shoulders are a broad, wide part of your body, so the proper way to use a TENS machine to help with shoulder pain depends on where the pain is located. To avoid great levels of discomfort, always place the pads over muscle tissue and not over an area that's directly over a bone or nearby. When you're using the device, take it slow the first time to determine what settings are best for you.

The right intensity and type of stimulation you need may vary based on the type of pain, how severe it is and whether you're trying to relieve acute or chronic pain. Start at the lowest settings and gradually increase them until you find the right width, intensity and pulse frequency. Once you find the right settings, continue to use the machine with minor adjustments as needed.

Where Do You Put TENS Pads for Shoulder Pain?

To determine the best placement of the TENS pads, locate the exact source of the pain and surround it with the pads. For example, if the pain is in your rotator cuff, you'd place one pad just beneath it on the side of your arm and the other on the top of your shoulder. This is the most effective placement because the impulses will be directed through the space between the pads.

The nerves you need to stimulate and the origin of your pain are in that middle spot. If you're having difficulty finding the best spot, you can work with your doctor or a physical therapist who can advise you.

Other Ways TENS Machines Work

TENS machines can be used to help both acute and chronic pain throughout the body. Some people have used them to manage pain in their hands, arms, legs and feet. They might even be able to help men and women who're suffering from sexual dysfunction. Athletes may use them to help with muscle soreness following an intense workout or during recovery.

The Bottom Line

You should always work with a doctor when treating pain from an injury or chronic health condition. TENS units have been proven effective at helping people manage their pain, but they can't cure the underlying cause. If you're concerned about using potent medications to relieve your pain, consider a TENS unit for neck and shoulder pain.

Where to Purchase a TENS Machine

Caputron offers several TENS products to consider which have gained FDA approval to be used to help pain. For example, the TENS Unit 3000 is an affordable and portable option that's easy to use. It's been approved for people with acute or chronic pain to help manage their symptoms. For more information, you can contact us to learn more.


  1. https://tensunits.com/blogs/blog/how-to-use-tens-to-treat-neck-pain
  2. https://midsouthpain.com/tens-unit-placement-neck-pain/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pinched-nerve/symptoms-causes/syc-20354746
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3104641/
  5. https://www.nursingtimes.net/clinical-archive/pain-management/exploring-the-evidence-for-using-tens-to-relieve-pain-09-03-2012/
  6. https://www.tensmachineinfo.com.au/shoulder-pain
  7. https://tensunits.com/blogs/blog/using-tens-for-shoulder-pain

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