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Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain: Using TENS for Pain Control

A man holding his lower back with two hands

Electrical nerve stimulation for back pain, specifically the use of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), is an effective method for controlling pain. By delivering small electrical currents through electrodes placed on the skin, TENS therapy helps to block pain signals from reaching the brain, providing relief and reducing discomfort. It is a non-invasive and drug-free option that can be used at home or with the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Many people worldwide suffer from back pain. It can be caused by different factors, including muscle strain or medical conditions. Back pain can be acute or chronic. Symptoms may include stiffness, muscle spasms, and limited range of motion. Various treatment options are available, and TENS is one approach that has shown promising results. This article provides information on TENS for back pain, including its mechanism of action and proper usage.

What is an Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain?

Electrical nerve stimulation for back pain, such as TENS, is a method of pain relief. It involves using an electrical device that runs on batteries and sends electrical currents to the body. The device consists of adhesive electrode pads and a control unit connected by wires. The pads are thin and flexible. They have an adhesive side, allowing users to stick them directly to the painful area for electrical stimulation.

In other models, the machine has wireless pads. Instead of cables, it incorporates Bluetooth technology to connect to a smartphone app. Users can control the settings conveniently from their mobile phones. The electrode patches are also interchangeable in different sizes to target different areas of pain. This makes a wireless device more portable and discreet to use.

Additionally, the electronic device offers adjustable settings that allow users to customise the frequency and intensity of the currents. As a result, the machine produces tingling sensations in varying degrees. Furthermore, the portable machine may utilise disposable or rechargeable batteries. The frequency of use and intensity level can affect the battery life.

Causes of Backaches

  • Poor posture: prolonged periods of sitting or standing with improper posture can strain the back muscles.
  • Muscular imbalances: weak or tight muscles in the back, abdomen, or hips can contribute to back pain.
  • Inactivity: lack of regular exercise and a sedentary lifestyle may weaken the supporting muscles of the spine.
  • Herniated discs: the displacement of spinal discs due to wear and tear or injury can result in back pain.
  • Arthritis: conditions like osteoarthritis or ankylosing spondylitis can cause inflammation and discomfort in the back.
  • Strains and sprains: overexertion, lifting heavy objects incorrectly, or sudden movements can cause strains or sprains in the back muscles.

iTENS large wing kit

How Does Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain Work?

Electrical nerve stimulation for back pain works by sending electric currents through electrode patches that people place on the skin. The pulse rate or frequency of the electric stimulation is adjustable to suit different needs or preferences. Low-frequency TENS (10 Hz and below) cause the nerves to become less sensitive. It is also the ideal setting for chronic pain conditions to trigger the release of endorphins. Furthermore, low vibrations give massaging effects.

Meanwhile, high-frequency TENS (50-120 Hz) stimulate the sensory nerves to block pain signals. This has short pulses and intensity, often characterised by strong but comfortable sensations. It is a suitable setting for people with acute pain conditions. It also has an analgesic effect on activity-induced musculoskeletal pain and fatigue and increases mobility.

The use of a TENS machine has a beneficial effect on the circulatory system. The electrical pulses or mild vibrations enhance blood circulation in the affected area. This contributes to the reduction of inflammation, muscle relaxation, and faster recovery of damaged tissues and nerve regeneration.

How the Body Responds to the Electrical Impulses?

When the body is exposed to TENS electric impulses, it responds in a few different ways. One way is through the Gate Control Theory of Pain. This theory suggests that spinal nerve fibres act as gates, regulating the transmission of pain signals. When TENS delivers electrical impulses, these neural gates limit the pain signals reaching the brain.

Another way the body responds to electric impulses is through the Natural Opioids System. The body produces natural opioids in the brain, such as enkephalins and endorphins, which assist in alleviating stress or pain. Low-frequency TENS can help induce the release of higher levels of endorphins.

A woman using iTENS on her arm and lower back

How to Use an Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain

Utilising electrical nerve stimulation for back pain is a straightforward process. To get started, one should carefully follow the instruction manual or seek guidance from a pain specialist. Begin by setting up the machine and placing pads on either side of the spine. Once everything is in place, turn on the device to initiate the electrical stimulation.

Adjusting the settings of the device is the next step. Customise the frequency and intensity according to the type and severity of the back pain. Consider factors like whether it is chronic or acute and the pain intensity. Start with a low-intensity setting and gradually increase it as the body adjusts to the sensations.

Typically, back pain treatment sessions last between 15 to 30 minutes. After the session, switch off the device and remove the electrode pads carefully. Keep an eye out for any signs of skin irritation or allergic reactions. Monitoring and adjusting the settings, along with proper electrode placement, contribute to a more effective pain management routine. This ultimately improves the quality of life for individuals dealing with back pain.


The TENS device offers several benefits. Firstly, it is non-invasive, meaning it does not require any needles or surgery. Secondly, the adjustable settings of the device offer personalised treatment options. Thirdly, TENS is a drug-free method of pain relief, making it non-addictive and safe for long-term use.

Fourthly, TENS is versatile. It can handle many types of pain conditions. These conditions include neuropathic pain, postoperative pain, period pain, movement pain, osteoarthritis pain, and more. Lastly, the machine is portable, making it convenient to use at home or on the go. Overall, these benefits highlight the effectiveness and convenience of using TENS for back aches.


In summary, electrical nerve stimulation for back pain, like TENS, is a method for alleviating pain. It works by sending adjustable electric currents through skin-attached electrode patches. Low-frequency settings reduce nerve sensitivity, triggering endorphin release and providing a massaging effect. Meanwhile, high-frequency settings block pain signals. TENS can also enhance blood circulation, reducing inflammation and promoting tissue and nerve recovery. Moreover, it is available in two types of devices: wired and wireless.

Using a TENS device for back pain is a simple and effective approach. By carefully following instructions and adjusting settings, individuals can experience personalised and non-invasive relief. The benefits, including its versatility and portability, make it a safe and convenient option for managing various types of pain without the need for drugs or invasive procedures. Ultimately, incorporating electrical nerve stimulation into a routine can enhance the quality of life for those dealing with back pain.

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