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How Does the TENS Unit for Back Pain Work?

How Does the TENS Unit for Back Pain Work?

The American Chiropractic Association reports that low back pain is the most common reason for incapacity around the world. Eighty percent of the human population has suffered from back discomfort at some point in their lives.

Since the back is crucial to our daily activities, back pain can limit our ways of celebrating life. Whether we're seated, standing, walking, lying down, sprinting, or doing something as seemingly insignificant as writing or watching a movie, our backs are constantly in use.

So, you can imagine the suffering that comes with chronic back pain. You can get some respite from your discomfort and go on with your day with the help of a TENS unit.  This gadget uses a holistic approach to treat back pain.

Learn more about transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS unit) for back pain relief and how it works in this article.

What Is This Tens Unit for Back Pain?

TENS therapy, also known as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, involves the application of moderate electric shocks to the affected area using a battery-operated device called a TENS unit.

The pain is treated by placing electrodes, commonly known as TENS pads, around the affected area and connecting the pads to the device through lead cables. The pads are given electric shocks via lead cables, preventing the patient from experiencing discomfort.

In What Way Does a TENS Unit for Back Pain Work?

TENS unit for back pain works in two ways and these ways are:

Releasing Endorphin

When you use a TENS unit for back pain, the electrical shocks activate nerves, which in turn releases endorphins. When your body produces more endorphins, you feel less pain, are more upbeat and have a stronger immune system. Unlike opioid-based painkillers, TENS units do not carry the same risk of addiction.

Pain Blocking Method

When an injury occurs, pain gating kicks in and blocks the little nerve fibers that are responsible for transmitting pain signals to the brain. It happens because the electrical pulse from the TENS device travels along the major fiber, and interrupts the small fiber's ability to transmit pain signals to the brain. Temporarily, this lessens the intensity of the agony that the person is feeling.

The pulse and width of the electrical shock can be adjusted on most TENS machines, giving you more or less pain relief. Some TENS unit brands let you adjust just about every parameter.

You can also find TENS units with dual-channel modes allowing you to use the device on two individuals simultaneously. You can also use it to relieve pain from multiple areas of the body at a time.  

tens unit

What Types of Back Pain Can Be Treated with TENS Unit

The term "back pain" is often used to describe a location rather than a specific pain condition. In this article, we'll look at the different causes of back pain and how a TENS machine can help.

Muscles Pain

TENS machines are frequently used to alleviate muscle discomfort. The NHS has endorsed these gadgets as research has linked them to effectively suppressing pain associated with:

Sore Muscles

Fifty people with DOMS were treated with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units and cryotherapy three times weekly for eight weeks. A substantial decrease in DOMS pain was observed after eight weeks of combination treatment.

Muscle Spasms

Thirty patients were used for the TENS group, while another 30 were used for the passive exercise group. At the study's end, TENS users reported much fewer muscle spasms and greater improvement in their ability to move freely. The research also shows that longer stimulation times are more effective at reducing muscular spasms.

Muscle Knots

A TENS unit for back pain was found to be beneficial in a trial involving 60 people with myofascial trigger point pain in the upper back.

Muscle Atrophy 

When used to aid in muscle rehabilitation, TENS units are helpful because they reduce pain and make stretching easier.

Nerve Pain

A TENS unit for back pain is highly effective for relieving nerve pain because it directly interrupts the pain signals being sent to the brain from the affected nerves. As a treatment for neuropathic pain, it comes highly recommended by organizations like the Foundation of Peripheral Neuropathy and the Brain and Spine Foundation.


The medical community has a poor grasp of fibromyalgia because of a lack of knowledge and funding. Pain in many different muscles and bones is a common symptom. Fibromyalgia sufferers frequently turn to TENS units for relief from chronic pain.

In a study conducted in 2020, TENS was found to alleviate pain and other signs for half of the subjects. Another study conducted in 2019 indicated that using a TENS machine reduced pain by increasing frontal lobe alpha power.

A study conducted on TENS devices in 2018 states that 44% of people with fibromyalgia reported a 30% or greater reduction in pain.


The success ratio of TENS units in the treatment of back arthritis is 50/50. The TENS unit reduces pain for almost half of the study participants whereas the other half report no difference, according to a Cochrane review published in 2015. There should be more investigation into this.

Post-Surgery Recovery

After surgery, TENS units for back pain are effective, and their use is strongly encouraged. Pain from surgery and pain from injuries like fractures and sprains are also reduced with this treatment. A TENS unit might help you reduce your reliance on painkillers after having back surgery.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Pain and nerve entrapment makes it difficult to move after a spinal cord injury. Although a TENS unit does not aid in entire movement throughout physiotherapy, it can help decrease the sensation of discomfort associated with exercising.

How To Use Tens for Back Pain?

When treating back pain with a TENS unit, there are several standard procedures you should follow for optimal results. Below are some of our top recommendations for getting started with a TENS unit.

  • Clean Your Skin

  • It is best to clean the areas where you plan on sticking the pads. Check the manual of your TENS unit before that as some TENS machines manufacturers suggest against it.

  • Use Gel

  • A specific type of gel is used on the skin before attaching the electrode pads. So, use the gel for ensuring a better connection.

  • Placing The Electrode Pads

  • Confirm in what area of the back you feel pain. Now place the pads on either side of that area. In case you have 4 electrode pads, place a pair just above the pained area. Place another pair right below the pained area.

  • Connecting The Electrodes

  • You need to attach the wires of the pads to the machine if they are not connected yet.

  • Initiate with low intensity

  • If you begin with a more powerful setting, you may experience a painful (but harmless) zapping sensation. Adjust the intensity up from its minimum level until the pain subsides.

  • Adjust The Setting According to Your Need

  • Test the settings on your device repeatedly until the pain disappears. When first using a TENS unit, try the default modes to see if they are effective. You can completely personalize your settings on some devices.

    The TENS unit doesn't cure ailments. Add alternative pain management measures including cold and hot therapy, relaxation, or physical exercise. Attempt to use your gadget within about an hour before the workout. You’ll notice actions to be simpler as the impacts of the endorphin release from the device persist.

    What Not to Do While Using a TENS Unit for Back Pain?

    back pain

    Don’t Drive While Using TENS

    Your muscles will twitch as adverse reactions of a TENS unit. It is crucial not to employ it when operating heavy machinery because of this. This could result in an accident.

    Don’t Take TENS Anywhere Around Water

    TENS machines are generally secure. However, it's best to avoid using them near liquids because they can cause minor electrical shocks.

    Don’t Fall Asleep While Using TENS

    Use your equipment before bed if the pain is keeping you up at night. If you use it while you're asleep, the electrodes can come unglued and zap you.

    Don’t use the device with hot & cold packs

    When using a hot and cold pack at the same time, moisture may enter the pads. This can cause accidents or damage the device.

    The Lowdown

    When buying a TENS unit for back pain, be mindful to buy from trusted manufacturers. AiRelax’s TENS units are among the best you can get your hands on. All of our products are safe, made of high-quality materials, and FDA-approved. So visit AiRelax to make your purchase. 

    It is recommended to consult with your physician first to check if you should use a TENS unit. Read the instructions before using the device for a better user experience.

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