How to use TENS therapy to relieve very tender lower back - Be My Healer
  • Home  / 
  • Pain in life
  •  /  How to use TENS therapy to relieve very tender lower back

How to use TENS machine to relieve lower back pain and herniated disc injury

tens unit feature

Oh what fun it is to lay in a one couch that you can't get comfortable no matter what you do.

Dealing with a freshly herniated disc is one of life's biggest bummer. For a lot of people, the hardest part about getting through this hard time is not the missed fun day/night out. It's simply impossible to get comfortable and relaxed and rest!

​At this crucial time, it would be awfully nice if you happen to own a TENS unit at home.

What is TENS unit/machine and what does it do?

TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, unit is a therapeutic modality that has been around for a long time to achieve musculoskeletal pain relief. 

TENS units use electrical current to stimulate/relax the nerves to help muscles to relax. 

shocked by electricity

You are thinking: doesn't that mean I am getting shocked? In a sense, you will be right. Yet, these electrical currents are very mild and gentle and confined to a local body part. In fact, TENS therapy is so gentle that some OB doctors consider it safe to use during pregnancy.

Often times, acute lower back pain and flare ups are made worse by constant spasming of large core muscles in the lower back. Electrical stimulations by TENS units can trick the nervous system into relaxing these muscle groups.

In addition, these tickling stimulation also prevent pain signals from reaching your brain, thus resulting in fewer pain sensations. 

TENS units nowaday come in pretty, easy-to-use, pocket-size device with four patches to stick to the skin. Some really cool models come in wireless and remote control design. While more traditional models would have some thin wires to connect the patches and the control unit.

How to use TENS unit for acute lower back pain

It is best to use the TENS units for lower back pain when your injury is fresh and pain is intense. During this stage, your best treatment is resting and try everything to avoid making the situation worse. Your goal during this time is to get through these few weeks until your symptoms improve.

TENS unit can be very helpful during this dragging healing process.

During the first few times, you can get someone to help you with patch placement. Once you are familiar with the setup process, you should be able to get it done by yourself. (Unless you have ongoing shoulder issues or very limited flexibility)

The best way to learn to do this safely is to take your TENS unit to your doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor. Their staff can help you identify the right way to use it for your condition. Some brands require the user to receive instruction and demonstration from a medical professional. (Be warned that some of the newer models have too many fancy settings that will confuse the heck out of your poor doctor.)

Before starting, make sure you are able to identify all these parts

identify tens unit parts
  • ​Identify your control unit and the on/off button. Make sure it is turned off.
  • If you control unit has turn dials to control the intensity of the treatment, make sure all the turn dials are returned to "0".
  • Identify two sets of wires, each connected to two patche plug-ins. These wires are either color coded or labeled channel "1" and "2".
  • Identify the ports for chanel "1" and "2"(sometimes they can be combined) on the control unit
  • Identify the 4 patches and the gel-side to come in contact with the skin

Step one:

TENS therapy for lower back pain step 1

Clean your lower back skin with a moist and dry towel. Identify the most painful area. For spread out pain area, the electrode placement will be further apart. For small and focus pain, the electrodes will be placed closer to each other.

Step two:

TENS therapy for lower back pain step 2

Take the first wire with two patches attached to the end (some places call it channel one) and place it diagnally across your lower back as in picture. It does not matter which side is on the top or bottom, as long as they are across the back. (This is silly, but dont forget to get off the plastic protector from the electrode patch so that the gel can stick to your skin.)

Step three:

TENS therapy for lower back pain step 3

Take the other wire with the last two electrode patches attached, place them across your lower back in the other direction as in the picture. The whole ideal is so that the electrode will brackate your painful area in the shape of big "X".

Step Four:

Once you have placed all four electrode patches on your lower back, and checked that all wires and plugs are securely connected, you can turn the device on. Some recent models have too many fancy settings, simulating massage treatments. However, you may want to start with simple option such as "continuous" or "IFC /wave". Read your user manual to figure out the most basic TENS setting.

Step Five:

Once you are confident with your control unit setting, you can start to increase the intensity from "0" to higher. As you push the plus sign or turning the dial up, pay attention to the sensation in the lower back. At first, you should feel light tingling tickles. Slowly increase the intensity until the tingling tickling ant-crawling sensation is strong, comfortable and not inducing any muscle twinges. 

If the device has a built-in timer, you can set it for 20 mins. Now you can relax in a chair. For extra pain relief, you can apply an ice pack to your lower back during the TENS treatment. If you own an abdominal brace, you can use it to secure all the electrodes so that you can move around the house and tend to chores.

Use TENS treatment no more than 20 mins per session and no more than three sessions per day to prevent skin irritations. If you notice redness under the electrode patch after each session and they do not completely go away before the next session, reduce the frequency and duration to prevent skin damage

As soon as you start to feel better, I highly recommend stopping TENS treatment and focus on proper stretching and strengthening for long-term functional recovery.

TENS therapy does not "heal" anything. Any pain relief you receive will be temporary unless you actively help your body to return to normal. Long-term usage of TENS therapy can increase body tolerance, making this treatment less effective in the future. 

Note about the electrode patches: their sticky gel are good for a while depends on the nature of user's skin. It is always wise to purchase additional electrode patches in case the original ones lost their "stickibility".

Some good TENS unit on the market

The simple solid solution - TENS 9000

This is the original version of home TENS unit. There is no fancy graphic and selections to confuse you (or your doctor). All you need to worry about are the two wire plug-ins and two turn dials on the top. Simple. Elegant. Hard to mess up. Will last you a long time. Recommended by professionals everywhere.

The fancy deluxe solution - Healthmate Forever

There is no denial. This powerful gadget is packed with options and pre-programed treatment. Its living purpose is to offer options at finger tip away. With it's 8 patch availability, you can treat multiple body parts at the same setting. If you are highly oriented to technology, this can get as fancy as a spa.

The discrete  solution - AccuRelief Wireless

I recommend this product because many of us has to be on our feet, constantly moving and still look presentable, regardless of our lower back pain. The wireless remote TENS unit may work great  for you if you cannot be bothered with dangling loose wores. If you are considering purchasing this (or similar) product, I recommend getting a soft lumbar/abdominal brace to help holding the bulky electrodes in place. Hooray freedom!

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful.

Recommended readings:

Like what you just read? Share this post via our social media buttons! They are everywhere on this page!

Want to know more about treating your own pain with techniques from a physical therapist? Please subscribe to our newsletter!

Leave a comment: