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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain: Definition, How To Use, and Safety Considerations

A man holding his lower back

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit is a device that helps relieve various types of pain. It works by sending electrical impulses through electrodes that users place on their skin, blocking pain signals. To use a TENS unit for lower back pain, individuals should clean their skin, attach the electrodes, activate the device, and adjust the settings. However, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional and avoid placing the electrodes on sensitive areas.

Many people choose to let back pain disappear on its own. They also use painkillers to temporarily alleviate the discomfort. However, this can result in negative consequences that may manifest later in life. Alternatively, they can utilise TENS as a safer and more effective alternative. It is drug-free and non-invasive. This article will present what is a TENS device for lower back pain, including its proper usage and safety guidelines.

What is a TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain

In the 19th century, electrotherapy devices gained mainstream recognition as a form of medical treatment. American neurosurgeon Clyde Norman Shealy developed the first TENS machine in 1974. Since then, TENS therapy has gained popularity, and modern devices are compact and effective for treating various acute and chronic ailments.

A TENS unit for lower back pain works by sending mild electric currents through electrode pads placed on the skin. These impulses interrupt or block the pain signals transmitted along the nerves to the spinal cord. By doing so, it provides relief from pain and muscle spasms in the lower back area.

While a TENS machine is not a standalone treatment for lower back pain, it can complement other approaches. These include physical therapy or medication. It is a non-invasive method that people can use at home and does not involve the use of medicines. However, it is important to consult with a medical professional to determine the best use and settings for the TENS device.

Benefits of Using the Device

  • Safe and non-invasive: TENS machines do not require any incisions or the ingestion of substances, making them a safer alternative for managing pain.
  • Provides pain relief: TENS units can help people with postsurgical pain, osteoarthritic pain, movement pain, joint pain, muscle pain, neuropathic pain, cancer pain, and more.
  • Reduces muscle spasms: electrical nerve stimulation from TENS devices can help relax muscles and reduce muscle spasms.
  • Improves quality of life: by providing short-term pain relief, TENS units can help improve the overall quality of life for individuals suffering from lower back pain.
  • Customisable settings: this provides a comfortable sensation and personalised pain relief.

A woman using iTENS on her arm and lower back

How to Use a TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain

The process of using a TENS unit for lower back pain is simple. Firstly, the user should locate the area of their lower back where they are experiencing pain. They can gently press on the back and identify the tender areas. Once they identify the area, they should clean their skin and ensure it is dry before applying the electrode pads.

Secondly, the person has to attach the electrode pads on either side of the area where the pain is. This allows the electrical impulses to target the affected nerves. Finally, the user can turn on the TENS unit and adjust the settings to their preferred intensity.

It is important to start with a low-intensity level and gradually increase it to a comfortable sensation. The machine will then deliver electrical pulses through the electrode pads, stimulating the nerves and blocking the pain signals sent to the brain. Overall, using a TENS machine for low-back pain is a safe and less invasive method of pain relief.

How it Works

A TENS unit works in two ways. Firstly, it utilises high-frequency electrical impulses, typically ranging from 50 to 150 Hz. These impulses activate the Pain Gate Theory. According to this theory, high-frequency electrical impulses flood the nerves, overwhelming the pain signals and preventing them from reaching the brain. This method is particularly suitable for acute pain.

Secondly, a TENS unit uses low frequencies, typically between 2 to 5 Hz, to stimulate the production of endogenous opioids. Endogenous opioids are natural painkillers that the human body produces. This approach is particularly effective for chronic pain, such as arthritis or spinal stenosis.

A person peeling off the plastic from the electrode

Safety Precautions When Using a TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain

When it comes to using a TENS unit for lower back pain, individuals must take certain safety precautions. For instance, they should consult with a healthcare professional before using a TENS device. This is especially important for individuals who have underlying medical conditions or are taking certain medications that could interfere with electrical nerve stimulation.

Additionally, users have to avoid placing the electrode pads on sensitive areas in the back. These areas include broken or irritated skin, varicose veins, and areas with poor circulation. Placing the pads in these areas can potentially cause discomfort, irritation, or even skin damage. It is important to carefully read and follow the user manual and guidelines provided by the manufacturer.

Furthermore, individuals with specific medical conditions should exercise caution. If they have a pacemaker or a history of epilepsy or seizures, they need to refrain from using a TENS unit. The electrical stimulation from the TENS device can interfere with implanted devices or trigger seizures and epilepsy.

When to Seek Medical Help

TENS provides pain relief, but it does not address underlying medical conditions. If symptoms continue, it could indicate a more serious issue. Individuals should consider seeking medical attention if they experience severe and constant pain, particularly at night.

Additionally, numbness and stinging feeling in other parts of the body can be alarming. Moreover, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, especially when it is associated with back pain, is considered abnormal. Hence, people must seek medical help if these happen. Overall, it is always best to see a doctor even if something feels strange in their bodies.


In conclusion, a TENS unit for lower back pain offers a non-invasive and effective way to alleviate discomfort. By interrupting pain signals through mild electric currents, it provides relief from lower back pain and muscle spasms. Users simply locate the pain area, apply clean, dry electrode pads, and adjust the machine to their comfort level. While it complements other treatments, consulting a medical professional ensures proper usage. This accessible solution empowers individuals to enhance their overall well-being.

Furthermore, it is important to follow safety guidelines when using a TENS unit. Users must avoid placing electrode pads on sensitive areas, as it could cause discomfort or skin damage. People with certain medical conditions, such as pacemakers or a history of epilepsy, should avoid using TENS machines to prevent complications. Moreover, if users have ongoing intense pain, strange numbness, or trouble breathing, it is crucial to seek medical help.

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