TENS Unit for Back Pain: Does It Really Work?

TENS Unit for Back Pain: Does It Really Work?

If you’re struggling with back pain, you may have been considering a TENS unit as a possible treatment option. But what is a TENS unit and how effective is it really?

A TENS machine is a small, portable device that delivers electrical impulses to the body through pads placed on the skin. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and the machine is commonly used to relieve pain. The electrical impulses alter signals from the brain associated with pain, and can also stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers. 

While TENS machines are most commonly used to relieve muscle pain, they can also be effective for treating other types of pain, including different forms of back pain, like disc pain or arthritis. The pads can be placed on the lower back, and the electrical impulses can help to relieve pain and stiffness. TENS units for back pain are safe to use, and there are very minimal side effects. However, it is important to consult a doctor before using a TENS machine, as they are not suitable for everyone.

Check out this photo (Read the caption too) from Haldimand Physiotherapy Centre, they are using a TENS machine for knee pain:

How Often can you use a TENS unit for back pain?

While there are no strict rules about how often you can use a TENS unit on your back, it is generally recommended that you limit treatment sessions to 20 minutes at a time. Additionally, it is important to give your skin a break from the electrodes every few hours to prevent irritation. When used as directed, a TENS unit can be a safe and effective way to manage back pain.

There is some evidence to suggest that TENS units can be effective for treating back pain. One study found that TENS therapy was able to significantly reduce pain in people with chronic lower back pain.

However, it’s important to note that not all studies have found TENS units to be effective. In one study of people with acute back pain, TENS units were no more effective than a placebo. 

It is important to know while many people respond favourably to TENS therapy, some will not.

If you’re considering using a TENS unit for back pain, it’s important to speak to your doctor first. They can help you determine if TENS therapy is right for you and advise you on how to use the device properly.

Check out this great post from Koonar Physiotherapy and learn more about TENS machine and its benefits (Read the caption):

How to use a TENS machine to relieve back pain?

TENS units are available without a prescription and can be used at home. When using a TENS unit for back pain, it is important to place the electrodes around the area of the back where the pain is most severe. It is also important to start with a low setting and gradually increase the intensity as needed. Most TENS units will have a pre-set timer, so it is important to not exceed the recommended time limit. TENS units are safe and effective for most people when used as directed. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider before using a TENS unit if you have heart disease, are pregnant, have a history of cancer or have any other medical conditions.

Top 3 Exercises to prevent Upper Back Pain courtesy of Physiotherapy at Woodbridge. (Read the caption)

Can a TENS unit make your back worse?

While a TENS unit can be an effective way to manage pain, there are some potential risks that should be considered before using one. In some cases, a TENS unit can actually make your back pain worse when used incorrectly. For example, if the unit is set too high, it can cause muscle spasms. If it is placed over an area that is already inflamed, it can cause further irritation. Additionally, if the unit is not turned off after use, it can continue to stimulate the muscles and nerves, which can lead to increased pain.

Now a TENS unit only offers temporary relief and doesn’t fix the actual problem. If you would like to find the root cause of your pain for longer-lasting relief then use the search box on this page to find a physiotherapist near you.


This appointment is your opportunity to tell us what hurts and discover whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care is a good fit for you! During this session, you will talk with a physiotherapist or chiropractor on a phone call (or online) and create the right care plan specifically for your pain. There is no obligation on this session is to find out whether physiotherapy or chiropractic care can help you getting back to doing the things you love in life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Anywhere from 5 minutes to 18 hours.

Most TENS units can be used for up to 30 minutes at a time, and can be used multiple times per day as needed.

There is some evidence that Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) may help ease sciatica pain. However, there is also a risk that TENS may make sciatica worse. This is because the electrical impulses from the TENS unit can sometimes aggravate the sciatic nerve, leading to increased pain. If you are considering using a TENS unit for sciatica, it is important to speak to your doctor first. They will be able to advise you on whether TENS is likely to help or worsen your condition.

About Taylor Sipos

Taylor is a physiotherapist at The Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic located in Toronto, Ontario. He treats patients with various musculoskeletal conditions using patient education, exercise therapy, manual therapy and acupuncture. His treatment philosophy involves giving his patient’s the means to self-manage their injuries. He does this through reassurance, education and health promotion. Taylor uses the same principles as a patient educator at Pain Hero. He aims to provide you with high-quality, easy to understand information to teach you about your condition and how to improve it.

Medical Disclaimer:

The information presented in this blog post is for educational purposes and should not be interpreted as medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, treatment or a diagnosis, consult with a medical professional such as one suggested on this website. The Clinic Accelerator Inc. and the author of this page are not liable for the associated risks of using or acting upon the information contained in this article.

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