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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation For Back Pain: How Does It Work?

A man holding his back due to pain while sitting on an office chair

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for back pain or TENS involves utilising a device that provides electrical impulses. The tool works by sending a low-level electric current to the nerves through electrode pads that are attached to the skin. Accordingly, the method of pain relief directly functions in different ways. It includes working based on a pain gate mechanism, the production of endorphins, and improving blood flow. Also, the electrical stimulation can be in low or high frequencies.

Backache is a common ailment that can significantly impact daily life. It can be due to common reasons such as muscle strain, poor posture, or underlying medical conditions. While traditional treatments like pain medications and surgeries can provide relief, they may provide adverse reactions. Fortunately, TENS emerges as a safe solution as it only uses electric stimulation. This article will present how TENS works for backaches, the related conditions it can treat, and how to apply TENS.

How Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain Works

In general, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for back pain uses a small, battery-operated device to alleviate painful conditions. It works by streaming low-voltage electrical currents through electrode patches that are on the skin. These electrical impulses can help reduce or relieve backaches in several ways or mechanisms.

Firstly, the Theory of Pain Gate explains that the electric stimulation transmitted by the TENS unit can override or block the pain signal travelling to the brain. These impulses can essentially close the gate, thereby reducing the perception of aches. Secondly, TENS can stimulate the release of endorphins. These are the natural painkillers of the body, which work by promoting a sense of well-being.

Moreover, TENS also helps to improve blood flow in the treatment area. This promotes the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the affected tissues, which can contribute to pain relief and the healing process. The pulses can also be set in a High-Frequency (HF) or Low-Frequency TENS. HF TENS uses above 50 Hz while LF TENS utilises below 10 Hz.

Advantages Over Other Treatment Methods

  • Non-invasive – it does not require any surgical incisions or injections. Thus, it makes it a preferable option for people who want to avoid invasive procedures.
  • Non-pharmacological interventions – TENS provides a method of pain relief without the use of medications.
  • Adjustable and customisable – most TENS allows for modifiable settings, including pulse duration, frequency, and intensity.
  • Portable and convenient – it is typically small and portable, allowing people to use them at home, work, or on the go.
  • Cost-effective – it eliminates the frequent visits to pain clinics or healthcare professionals.
  • Targeted relief – the electrodes can be placed on specific areas of the body, including the back.

A man holding his lower back while sitting on a bed

Related Conditions that Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain Can Treat

The transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for back pain can treat a variety of related aches, whether acute pain conditions or chronic pain conditions. Primarily, TENS is beneficial in managing sciatica. It is a condition that radiates along the sciatic nerve, often from the lower back down to the legs. Subsequently, TENS can aid in treating muscle spasms in the back by soothing and relaxing the muscles.

Moreover, people with degenerative disc disease, a condition involving the breakdown of spinal discs, may find relief through TENS therapy. Accordingly, TENS may offer pain management to herniated discs. It is an ailment in which the inner material of a spinal disc protrudes and puts pressure on nearby nerves. Also, TENS can be an option for managing osteoarthritis pain in the spine.

Following surgery, TENS can be valuable in alleviating postoperative pain. TENS may help facilitate the recovery process of a person. It is also common in the management of fibromyalgia. It is a condition due to widespread musculoskeletal pain and tenderness. Nevertheless, by modulating the mechanisms of TENS, it is an optimal solution offering relief to numerous conditions.

Understanding the Effects of the Therapy

TENS therapy is a popular treatment option. However, it is important to know the treatment effects. The electrical stimulation from the unit distracts the nervous system from perceiving aches. Users may experience tingling sensations or buzzing effects during the therapy. Aside from the pain gate and the release of endorphins, TENS can offer other effects.

TENS can provide central pain modulation. These modulate the activity of nerves and neurons, which can potentially alter the way the brain and spinal cord interpret and respond to back pain signals. Also, TENS can influence the activity of certain neurotransmitters. These are the chemical messengers in the nervous system.

A woman using TENS in the lower back and arms

How to Apply Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Back Pain

To apply transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for back pain, there are some things to prepare. Firstly, gather the TENS machine, pads, and batteries, if needed. Check the condition of the unit for any wear and tear. Secondly, figure out where to place the pads on the back. It is important to avoid placing the electrode patches directly on the spine or any areas with broken skin.

Before attaching sets of electrodes, ensure that the skin is clean and dry. Carefully attach the electrode patches to the treatment area. Make sure they are secure and have good contact with the skin. Then, turn on the unit and adjust the settings. Some TENS may offer preset programs for backache. Start with low settings and increase it slowly to a comfortable level.

Once everything is in place, the TENS treatment can begin. The person using the TENS should feel a tingling or gentle tapping in the back. This is normal and should not cause any further aches. Accordingly, the duration of the treatment may vary. However, the advisable time is 15 to 30 minutes, and a 20-minute break for longer sessions.

Pad Placement Guide for Effective Use

Proper pad placement is important in managing backaches using TENS. Before placing the pads, it is essential to pinpoint the area of the back where the ailment is most concentrated. Typically, for backaches, it is advisable to place the electrodes on either side of the treatment area. Electrode pads are usually placed horizontally for back ailments, with at least a one-inch gap.

Nevertheless, a healthcare professional or the instructor may provide specific guidance. It is crucial to avoid placing the pads directly on the spine. Placing them on the muscles on either side of the spine is usually the best approach.


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for back pain is a valuable treatment option for many people. The tool functions by sending electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves in the back and provide pain relief. Accordingly, TENS works based on the pain gate mechanism, the release of endorphins, and increasing blood flow. Also, the electrical stimulation can be sent in high or low frequencies. With such mechanisms, it helps in managing different conditions, whether acute or chronic.

The TENS unit offers advantages over other treatment methods. It is non-invasive, non-medicinal, adjustable, portable, cost-effective, and provides targeted relief. Furthermore, TENS can be used to treat other related ailments. This includes sciatica, muscle spasms, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and more. To use TENS for backache, it is advisable to place the electrodes on either side of the treatment area, usually horizontally, avoiding the spinal cord.

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