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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Unit for Back: What It Is, How It Works, and How to Use

Woman holding the lower back while sitting

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS unit for the back is a machine that helps relieve pain through electrical pulses. The device consists of a set of electrode pads and adjustable controls to activate the natural pain-relieving mechanisms of the body. It works by targeting the sensory nerves to block pain signals and release endorphins. Operating the TENS unit is simple. Users have to place the electrodes on the pain area and control the pulses to find effective relief.

Back pain is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Some backaches come and go with minimal interventions. However, others are long-lasting due to an underlying condition like degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, or osteoarthritis. In such cases, a TENS unit can be very helpful in providing relief. In this article, we will explore what a TENS therapy device is, how it works to relieve pain, and how to operate it effectively.

What is a TENS Unit for the Back?

A TENS unit for the back is a medical device that provides pain relief by sending low-voltage electrical currents through the skin. It is battery-operated with two main components: a set of adhesive electrode pads and a control unit. The currents produced by the TENS machine are adjustable, allowing individuals to control the intensity and frequency of the stimulation.

In traditional devices, the unit connects the electrode pads through wires. Conversely, some modern models are wire-free. Instead of cables, the device connects to a receiver or a smartphone app. This provides a more comfortable approach because there are no wires to restrict movement. It is beneficial for people with active lifestyles who need pain relief on the go.

Additionally, mobile apps offer more programs and features without adding to the bulkiness of the device. These programs allow users to choose a stimulation mode, such as burst, continuous, or modulation, according to their preferences. These programs have pre-set pulse settings, creating various effects, such as massage and acupuncture-like treatment. There are also modes based on body parts or health conditions.

Related Conditions that TENS Can Treat

TENS therapy can treat acute or chronic back pain from the following conditions:

  • Muscle strains or sprains – these are injuries or tears to the muscles or ligaments due to overstretching or accident.
  • Arthritis – inflammation of the joints due to wear and tear or autoimmune diseases. The common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.
  • Nerve damage – irritation or compression of the nerve roots. Common conditions are sciatic pain, diabetic neuropathy, carpal tunnel pain, and fibromyalgia.
  • Degenerative disc disease – a disorder that affects the spine and can cause stiffness and radiating pain. Examples are herniated disc, bulging disc, and spinal stenosis.

How a TENS Unit for the Back Works

How a TENS Unit for the Back Works

The main function of a TENS unit for the back is to provide relief from chronic and acute pain conditions. The device works by sending mild electrical impulses through electrodes in the affected area. These electrical signals reach and stimulate the affected nerves. In particular, it closes the “neural gates” in the spinal cord, blocking the pain signals from reaching the brain.

The low-level electrical nerve stimulation also stimulates the release of endorphins. These natural hormones have analgesic effects, similar to morphine. However, they do not have adverse side effects. They work by inhibiting the nerve cells from sending pain messages to the brain. In addition, they help reduce stress and anxiety.

It is important to note that while TENS can provide temporary relief, it does not treat the underlying cause of the pain. Each individual may also have different experiences with TENS therapy. Some may experience relief while using the device, while it may take longer for others to feel the effects. Thus, it is essential to try different settings or consult a doctor for specific instructions.

Advantages of Using the Device

Using a TENS machine for pain management offers several advantages. Firstly, it is non-invasive and drug-free. It does not require any surgery or medication, making it a safe and affordable option. Secondly, it is portable and easy to use. Their compact design, especially wireless units, is discreet when worn under the clothes.

Thirdly, most devices come with pre-set programs that can be adjusted to meet individual needs. This provides targeted and tailored pain relief. Individuals can facilitate it without affecting their activity levels. Lastly, it can be used as a standalone treatment or with other strategies, such as physical therapy and exercise.

A woman wearing a wireless TENS machine on the lower back

How to Use a TENS Unit for the Back

To use a TENS unit for back pain, first know the proper pad placement. Afterwards, put the electrodes in the treatment area. The ideal placement is on either side of the spinal column or on the side where the pain is most felt. Also, ensure that the skin is clean and dry, and avoid areas with skin irritation, redness, and open wounds.

Once the electrodes are firmly in place, turn on the unit and adjust the settings. Set the pulse rate and pulse duration according to the instructions. For most units, the pulse rate or frequency is adjustable from 1-150 Hz depending on the type of pain. Additionally, start with the lowest pulse amplitude or intensity. Gradually increase the level until the electric current feels strong but comfortable.

For mild pain, the treatment session may be set between 10-30 minutes. For chronic or intense pain, individuals may set the therapy between 30-60 minutes. Furthermore, users may experiment with different pulse combinations to find what works best for them. They may also utilise the pre-set features for convenient relief.

Safety Considerations

Like any treatment, it is essential to take the necessary safety measures. When using the device, avoid electrode placement in sensitive areas. This includes the spine, joints, chest, throat, and head. Moreover, do not exceed one hour per treatment. Allow a 20-minute break before starting another session.

Individuals should avoid turning the intensity to extreme levels to prevent potential nerve damage. Additionally, do not use the device while bathing or in water, sleeping, or driving. Lastly, TENS may not be suitable for people with heart problems, epilepsy, cardiac pacemakers, and pregnant women. Individuals with these conditions should consult a medical professional before use.


Using a TENS unit for the back is a safe, non-invasive, and drug-free method of pain relief.  The device has a pair of electrode pads that deliver mild electrical impulses directly to the affected area. With varying levels of stimulation, TENS can alleviate acute or chronic pain, such as musculoskeletal pain, arthritis pain, muscle strains, and postsurgical pain. Through natural pain relief, individuals can manage pain without the risk of side effects associated with medications.

Operating a TENS unit is simple. Individuals should ensure proper pad placement and adjust the settings according to their comfort level. Moreover, avoid sensitive areas to prevent further pain or discomfort. Users should also take other safety measures and consult a doctor if necessary. The TENS device is available in wired and wireless types in pharmacies and online stores. Finally, individuals may choose a unit based on their preferences or specific treatment needs.

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