TENS Unit for Back Pain: TENS Therapy to Relieve Back Pain

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If you are a regular visitor to a chiropractor, then they will probably have used a TENS unit at some point during your treatment sessions — especially if you deal with chronic back pain.

Back pain can utterly destroy your overall sense of well-being. It can even confine you to your bed and stop you from getting on with your daily life. Pure. Misery. Yes, I’ve been there many times before.

Whether you suffer from upper, mid, or lower back pain, finding any form of pain relief is helpful. But if you’re sick and tired of taking painkillers, you may want to consider a TENS unit for back pain

Do TENS units work for back pain? Can you use them at home?

Yes! Read on to find out the details!

TENS Unit for Back Pain


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS for short, is a type of electrotherapy that works to interrupt pain signals in the body. This, in turn, reduces sensations of both acute and chronic pain in the body. 

The small unit has the ability to disrupt the pain signals from the brain to injured areas of the body by sending electricity through the skin that travels from your nerves. 

These electric signals stimulate the nerves and travel to your brain, which then produces endorphins that are sent to the bloodstream. These endorphins provide the short-term pain relief you’ll feel when using a TENS unit.

Since your back contains the biggest and most complex muscle group in your body, using a TENS to relieve pain works wonders for many people. It’s the reason why so many chiropractors and physical therapy practitioners use these devices when treating their patients.

The electrical muscle stimulation provided by a TENS unit is considered safe and effective for most people, which is why these devices are also approved by the FDA. When used in the correct way, there is no potential of side effects, unlike those you can have when using painkillers. 

Unless you have an underlying condition that affects your spine, then it is likely that you will find some pain relief when using a TENS unit for back pain. This is why many people find that TENS units work effectively for helping them to find pain relief from their back conditions.

How Does A TENS Machine Help Back Pain?


Have you ever wondered just how does a TENS unit help with back pain? Well, it all has to do with electrical stimulation, which may sound shocking — LOL, pun intended! — but TENS treatment actually extremely safe and very therapeutic at lower frequencies and currents. 

The electrical impulses that you feel from the electrode sticky pads on your skin are how the TENS unit stops pain signals from reaching your brain. It does this by blocking the pain signals that start at the injured nerves and move along the spinal cord. 

This means that the signal won’t reach the brain to tell you that it hurts. Therefore, after using a TENS unit for a while for your back pain, your body will gain the ability to actually retrain the injured nerves, which will facilitate the rehabilitation of the condition.

TENS Therapy For Lower Back Pain Management

If you are in the unfortunate position of being a chronic lower back pain sufferer, then you will be pleased to discover that using a TENS unit has the potential to give you the pain relief you deserve.

In fact, according to a study published by the National Library of Medicine in 2016, it was concluded that using a TENS for the treatment of chronic lower back pain provided many sufferers with significant short term pain reduction, which led to them using less pain medication for their condition.

That fact alone should make you want to consider adding a TENS  unit to your current pain relieving protocol, especially since it is a safe and cost-effective way to do so from the comfort of your own home.

TENS Unit Settings For Back Pain Treatment

The most standard TENS units that you’ll find on the market come with three frequency settings — low (with a voltage of 2-10Hz), medium (35-50Hz), and high frequency (80-120Hz). The frequency, which is also known as the pulse rate, indicates the number of electrical pulses that your nerves will receive in a second.

If your back issue is due to a chronic condition, then it is suggested that you use lower settings for longer, which will help to ensure that you will benefit from endorphin release. This means using the low frequencies of 2-10Hz.

On the other hand, if your back pain is more acute, such as a pulled muscle, spasm, or herniated disc, then you will probably find the higher frequency settings most effective at helping to relieve your condition. This means using the 80-120Hz frequencies on your TENS unit.

In addition, there are three mode settings — Constant, Burst, and Modulation. If you have acute back pain, then you’ll want to use the Constant, or normal, mode.

If you’re suffering from a more chronic back issue, then the Burst or Modulation (which is cyclical and varies between settings) modes will be better suited to your needs. It’s up to you to choose the setting that feels best for you.

Last, but not least, there is also a setting that allows you to either shorten or lengthen the width of the electrical pulse. Although you’ll probably not feel this subtle change, especially if your pain is more severe, you can rest assured that your injured nerves do.

Of course, the actual TENS device that you have purchased, or are considering to do so, may be slightly different. You’ll need to read the manufacturer’s instructions to get familiar with your unit before using it.

How To Use A TENS Unit For Back Pain

There are really no steadfast rules for using a TENS unit for your back pain. Whether your problem is in the back of your neck and shoulders, your middle back, or your lower back, you can use your TENS for up to around two hours for each session.

This should be the limit for most people. Using your TENS unit for longer than that can cause the skin on your back to become irritated, due to the constant electrical currents being sent.

But after two hours, you should have received enough pain relief to give your body a break, before having another session after about an hour or so, if needed.

See also:

What Warnings Are There For Using TENS Unit For Back Pain?

If you have an underlying condition that affects your spine, then you need to consult your doctor before using a TENS unit at home. 

Otherwise, it is generally considered safe for you to use your TENS unit whenever you are experiencing back pain. You should be aware though, that there is a possibility that your back pain can get worse if you use the device incorrectly. 

This is why you should always start your session on the lowest setting to avoid causing painful muscle spasms and make sure that the electrode pads are placed on areas of skin that are not irritated or inflamed, otherwise, it can be damaged even further.

Final Thoughts: The Back Story

Having back pain is never fun, whether you’re feeling it in the shoulder area, your middle back, or your lower back. And if your usual painkillers aren’t helping with the situation, you’ll probably try anything to reduce pain and deliver relief. 

Luckily, there is a safe and effective treatment at your disposal, which you can use throughout the day to control your pain. Unless you have an underlying spinal condition, using a TENS unit for back pain will offer you the relief you need to get back to your day-to-day activities without side effects.