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TENS Back Pain Relief: Pad Placement Guide

A man clutching his pained lower back

Backaches are a common ailment that can significantly impact the quality of life. To deal with the aches, many turn to pain medicines, hot and cold therapy, or physical therapy. Another effective pain management method is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). Many people use TENS for back pain relief. This is done by applying TENS pads on either side of the spinal cord, on muscle areas near the pain source.

TENS machines deliver electrical impulses to the skin using electrode pads. They have adjustable settings and preset modes to alleviate different types of pain. It works by triggering the pain-gating mechanism and the release of endogenous opioids. TENS can provide natural relief effective for various chronic and acute pain conditions. This article will present how TENS works, the pad placement guide for back pain, and the benefits of using TENS.

How a TENS for Back Pain Relief Works

Back pain is a common problem that affects millions of people. Several factors can cause backaches. This includes poor posture, muscle strain, spinal problems, and other illnesses. Fortunately, TENS for back pain relief provides drug-free pain relief from various chronic and acute pain conditions.

TENS machines are battery-operated devices that deliver electrical impulses to the body. This triggers the sensory nerves, producing analgesia for pain relief. TENS therapy provides versatile treatment by allowing the user to customise the frequency, intensity, and pulse-duration settings. They may also select a preset mode tailored for backaches or their causes.

TENS therapy mainly operates using the pain gate mechanism and endorphin release. Moreover, it also has other effects that can help with backaches. TENS machines can produce a massage-like effect. This increases blood flow to the target area and relaxes sore muscles. Meanwhile, endorphins help reduce inflammation, which can help improve mobility. It can also reduce stress and improve moods, increasing the quality of life.

Main Theories at Work

These are the two theories explaining how TENS therapy provides analgesic effects:

  • Gate Control Theory of Pain: this suggests that electrical pulses can stimulate the spinal nerve cells to block the transmission of pain signals from reaching the brain. This is also referred to as the pain gating mechanism. This is triggered by high-frequency stimulation and works well for acute pain relief.
  • Endogenous Opioid Release: low-frequency stimulation triggers the production of endorphins. These hormones are natural painkillers that build up and produce a reduction of pain. This is ideal for chronic pain relief because its effects can last hours.

A woman wearing a large wing electrode on her lower back

Pad Placement Guide When Using a TENS for Back Pain Relief

Proper electrode placement is crucial when using TENS for back pain relief. Generally, the ideal placement for electrode pads is on muscle areas near or on the origin of the pain. The user may apply the TENS pads on either side of the spinal cord for backaches. They may also attach adhesive pads on both sides, but it is recommended to focus on one area to maximise the results.

Before applying the pads, the user should wash the skin with soap and water. This removes any dirt, body oil, or lotions that may interfere with the adhesion of the pads. Moreover, they must check if the adhesives may need to be replaced before applying them on dry skin. Afterwards, the user may attach them while carefully avoiding sensitive areas like the spinal cord.

Furthermore, users should avoid placing pads on areas with irritated, infected, or broken skin. This is because the electrical stimulation may cause the condition to worsen. Lastly, the user must position the electrodes at least one inch away from each other.

How to Use the Device

Using a TENS machine is a simple process. Nevertheless, it is recommended to study the instruction manual from the device manufacturer to ensure the safe and proper use of the unit. To start, the user must apply the pads to the targeted area. Then, they may turn the machine on and adjust the settings.

It is best to start on low settings to prevent sudden shocks or discomfort. Afterwards, they gradually increase the settings or select a preset mode. After 20 to 30 minutes, the user may turn the machine off. Lastly, carefully remove the electrode pads.

A newscaster reporting on TENS

Benefits of TENS for Back Pain Relief

There are several benefits of using TENS for back pain relief. Firstly, TENS is non-invasive. It does not use invasive procedures, such as injections and incisions. This removes the risks of infections and other complications. Secondly, TENS machines are portable devices. This makes it easy for individuals to use it whenever needed. Some even have wearable TENS pads to enhance their portability.

Thirdly, TENS provides drug-free relief. This is helpful for those who rely on pain medications for their chronic pain conditions. It can help them reduce their intake, reducing the risks of adverse effects from these medicines. Moreover, TENS is not addictive, allowing for daily use.

Furthermore, TENS is complementary with other treatments. This is why many use them in hospitals and pain clinics to aid with various chronic pain conditions. Lastly, TENS can provide relief for various body aches and conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, sciatica, and diabetic neuropathy. Nevertheless, consulting a medical professional is recommended before using this medical device.

How Often Should You Use TENS?

How often a person should use TENS depends on various factors, such as the severity of pain, tolerance to electric stimulation, and the specific condition causing the pain. For many, TENS is safe to use up to four times daily. However, it is best to consult a healthcare professional for medical advice before using one so they may diagnose the condition and guide the user on how to use the TENS machine.

It is also crucial for the user to take breaks in between sessions. This prevents adverse effects from overusing the machine from occurring, which can include skin irritation and mild burns.


Using TENS for back pain relief is an effective method for many people. It works by triggering spinal nerve cells to block pain signals from reaching the brain or by inducing endorphin production. It can also produce a massage-like effect that relaxes sore muscles and increases blood flow for faster recovery. Moreover, TENS machines are easy to use. This allows users to alleviate their backache whenever they need to without depending on pain medicines or invasive procedures.

Users must apply the pads on either side of the spinal cord for back pain. They may also apply them on both sides if needed. Then, they may adjust the settings accordingly for optimal relief. Individuals may use TENS machines multiple times daily, depending on their medical condition and tolerance. However, they should consult their healthcare provider for advice to ensure safety. Those interested in a wireless TENS unit may consider the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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