How to Use a TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain

TENS units, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation units, use an application of pulsed electrical currents that are low in frequency; these transmit through electrodes on the surface of the skin. These therapeutic tools are mentioned more and more often as a growing number of people seek them out for their effects on low back pain, among other common locations of pain, muscle spasms, physical rehabilitation, and even for wound healing. They offer pain relief without resorting to medication, are effective as a complementary therapy, and are inexpensive. But how do you use a TENS machine for lower back pain relief?

How TENS Machines Work

TENS units deliver small electrical impulses by means of electrodes with adhesive pads that attach to your skin. These electrodes work in one or two pairs placed around the painful area. The electrical impulses flood your nervous system. They reduce its ability to send pain signals throughout the spinal cord and brain. These impulses also stimulate your production of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. They can disrupt clenching muscles and encourage your flow of blood, which promotes swifter healing to damaged areas.

Ways in Which Tens Machines Work

TENS machines can treat symptoms such as:

  • period pain
  • joint pain
  • postoperative pain
  • back pain
  • neck pain

They are used for such conditions as:

  • endometriosis
  • sports injuries
  • arthritis
  • fibromyalgia
  • spinal cord injury
  • multiple sclerosis
  • diabetic neuropathy with pain
  • arthritis

They treat disc herniation and swelling, muscle strains, knotted muscles, and sciatica. These units also help to reduce the pain caused by moderate to severe scoliosis.

How to Use a Tens Machine

First, identify the main area that is experiencing pain. Position the electrodes to either side of the pain’s source. If the electrode pads are meant for repeated use, they may require a very little water to encourage their connectivity. Prepare the machine; some machines require the setting to be applied before turning the unit on, others require power to make a setting selection for the session. Especially for first-time use, start on the lowest setting, turning on the unit as appropriate. Then adjust the frequency and pulse length. Intensity, generally a dial on the TENS machine, adjusts how intense the electrical stimulation is.

Frequency refers to each second’s number of pulses of electricity. High-frequency units range between 80 and 120 cycles per second. This is most commonly used on acute pain. Low frequency, which cycles one to 20 times per second, is frequently used to treat chronic pain. This is pain that is ongoing for a long period of time. Finally, duration refers to the length of time, in microseconds, that the current passes into the skin for each pulse. You may need to try out several settings before you find the right combination to ease your particular pain. Repeat as is needed, in sessions that last about half an hour each.

Placing the Electrodes

For lower back pain, adhere the electrodes to the skin on either side of the pained area. If your machine uses two pairs of electrodes, place two just above and two just below the pain. For sciatic pain, along the leg is where you want the electrodes to be. With coccygeal pain, place electrodes on either side of the spine at the right height. The same, although higher, applies to upper back pain or pain of the shoulders. In this latter instance, avoid placement on the bones of the shoulder.

Do not place electrodes higher than your neckline. Only the lower neck, where it slopes into the shoulders, should bear electrodes for neck pain. One thing that may surprise new TENS users is the sensation of the electrical impulses as they pass into the skin. This sensation may feel like tingling, buzzing, or prickling. Some find it uncomfortable, but most TENS users grow accustomed to the feeling quickly, finding it less important than the sensations of pain relief also provided by the unit. TENS units treat pain in many locations, but low back pain is one of the more common sites for electrode placement.

Using a TENS to relieve low back pain is easy. Simply place the electrodes, choose your settings on the machine, and relax. Call us today at 205-637-1363 to experience the pain relief for yourself.

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