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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Machine for Back Spasms: What It Is and How It Works

A large and small wing iTENS electrode and refill gel pads

Many people experience back muscle spasms due to various factors. One way to relieve the pain from it is using Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). A TENS machine for back spasms is a medical device that delivers electrical impulses to the body. This works to alleviate the ache by triggering the pain gate mechanism or endorphin release. The pain gate mechanism is when the spinal nerve cells block the pain signals. Meanwhile, endorphins reduce the overall pain sensation.

People may use TENS machines without medical supervision. This allows them to achieve drug-free and convenient relief whenever needed. However, consulting a medical professional before using one is recommended. This can help ensure safety and provide an opportunity to get advice on using TENS for the condition. This article will present what a TENS machine is, how it works, and the safety precautions for using it.

What is a TENS Machine for Back Spasms?

Back spasms are a common cause of backaches. It can range from sharp but quick throbs to debilitating contractions. Often, people use pain medications or home remedies to treat it. Another option is a TENS machine for back spasms. It is a battery-operated device that uses electrode pads to deliver electrical currents to the body. It provides electrical stimulation that can trigger the body to alleviate aches and spasms.

Generally, there are two types of TENS machines. These are the wired and wireless units. Doctors and physical therapists often use wired or handheld units in medical settings. It uses lead cables to connect the adhesive electrodes to the controller and power source. Some allow connection for up to eight electrodes in one session.

Meanwhile, wireless TENS devices connect controllers and pads using Bluetooth technology. Some have separate consoles to adjust the output, while some can use smartphone applications. Many find these more convenient because of the lack of cables. Moreover, this type of TENS machine often has rechargeable batteries and preset modes, which increases its convenience.

Causes of Back Spasms

These are some possible causes of back spasms:

  • Lifestyle: poor posture and lack of physical exercise can contribute to spasms. Overworking the muscles from heavy lifting and repetitive movements are also possible causes.
  • Stress and other mental health issues: this includes anxiety and emotional distress.
  • Injury: accidents that affect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the back can result in back spasms.
  • Herniated discs: this is an ailment that occurs when a disc breaks through a weak layer of the spinal cord.
  • Arthritis: inflammation of one or more joints, which can affect people of all ages.

A person placing a large wing electrode on the lower back area

How a TENS Machine for Back Spasms Works

A TENS machine for back spasms works by sending electrical impulses through the skin to the sensory nerves of the affected area. Users can adjust the frequency, intensity, and pulse width settings of the stimulation by using their controllers. Typically, TENS machines have a frequency range of 1-150 Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mA. This range allows it to address various conditions.

Using high-frequency stimulation (50-150 Hz) triggers spinal nerve cells to block the transmission of pain signals. This is the mechanism suggested in the Gate Control Theory of Pain. For most, it works quickly, making it ideal for acute pain conditions. This setting also has a massage-like effect of increasing blood flow to the target area and reducing muscle tension.

On the other hand, low-frequency stimulation (2-10 Hz) induces the production of endorphins. These hormones are natural painkillers that build up and reduce the overall sensation of pain. In addition, they help reduce inflammation and can improve moods. Many use this for chronic pain conditions because its effect can last for hours.

Benefits of the Device

There are many benefits to using a TENS unit. Firstly, it can alleviate pain from many conditions. This includes postsurgical pain, muscle pain, and neuropathic pain. Secondly, it uses non-invasive methods. This removes the risks of infections and other complications from injections and incisions. Furthermore, it does not interfere with daily life because it does not require a recovery period.

Thirdly, it is drug-free. This is particularly helpful for those who wish to reduce or replace their intake of pain medicines, which are known to have adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and stomach bleeding. Lastly, it is portable and easy to self-administer.

A man frowning while holding his pained lower back

Precautions When Using a TENS Machine for Back Spasms

Before using a TENS machine for back spasms, the foremost safety precaution is consulting a healthcare provider for medical advice. They may assess if the medical condition suits electrotherapy. Some people have ailments that may react negatively to electric nerve stimulation, such as epilepsy and heart disease. Moreover, doctors may advise on how to operate the machine and prevent misuse.

It is crucial to stay alert during a TENS therapy session. Hence, users must avoid sleeping and doing safety-sensitive activities that require concentration. This includes driving and operating heavy machinery. During the session, individuals must also avoid contact with water since it may cause an electrical shock that can harm the machine and the user.

Another essential piece of advice is to practice proper electrode pad placement. Generally, people apply electrodes on muscles near or on the origin of the pain. However, they must avoid sensitive areas such as the spinal cord, chest, throat, eyes, and head. Other places to avoid applying pads are areas with irritated, infected, or broken skin.

Is There Any Adverse Effects?

TENS machines may cause adverse effects. Firstly, some may experience allergic reactions from the materials in the adhesives or the pads. One way to prevent this is to use hypoallergenic pads and regularly check the skin underneath.

Some may also experience tingling sensations and muscle twitching during their session. This is often mild and stops after some time. However, those who experience excessive discomfort should either lower the intensity or stop the session. Lastly, TENS should not cause worsening pain during or after the session. If an individual does feel this, they should consult a healthcare provider.


Using a TENS machine for back spasms is a non-invasive and drug-free method of achieving pain relief. This is helpful because of how common back spasms are. Poor posture, injuries, or arthritis can cause it. Fortunately, TENS can stimulate the body to alleviate the ache. It does this by triggering the pain gate mechanism and endorphin production. To use it, the user must apply the adhesives on muscle areas near the pain source while avoiding sensitive areas.

There are many benefits to using TENS. However, consulting a healthcare professional is recommended before using it. They may advise on how to properly use the machine and inform the user if they have a medical condition that may react negatively to the stimulation. Those who can use TENS may purchase their machine online or in pharmacies. One option is the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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