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"TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain"

A TENS unit is an electrical modality frequently found in physical therapy and chiropractic clinics.  It stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS for short.  It can be used for the management of lower back pain.  This form of electrotherapy uses an electrical current that is very low (milliamps) and is deemed safe for use even at home.

A TENS unit can be an effective “home” treatment for lower back pain and sciatica.  Whys it works or how it works has been somewhat controversial in nature.  There are at least four theories on how a TENS unit changes the perception of pain:

  1.  Gate Control Theory.
  2. Release on existing natural opiates in the body.
  3. Local vasodilation affecting trigger points.
  4. Stimulation of acupuncture or acupressure points.

How Do I Get a TENS Unit?

It is not uncommon for a physician (usually a pain management doctor) to prescribe a TENS unit for home use.  It is fairly inexpensive and covered by insurance a majority of the time.  Because a TENS unit is considered by the FDA to be a Class II device, it must be prescribed by a physician.

Using a TENS unit for back pain can have many benefits.  It can allow an individual with back pain to find pain relief without use of any medication and thereby reduce the chances of addiction.

A TENS unit may be used for hours or days at a time.  And pain relief can be achieved in most cases as soon as the unit is administered for use at the painful site.

You do NOT and should NOT use a TENS unit if:

  1. You are pregnant.
  2. While driving your car.
  3. While bathing or washing.
  4. Over the front part of your neck.
  5. Over the eyes.
  6. You use a pacemaker or have cardiac disease.

In general a TENS unit is easy to administer anytime an individual is suffering from back pain or sciatica.And its use can be a nice addition to any ongoing treatment already being performed by a chiropractor or physical therapist.

As you may feel a TENS unit is right for you, contact your physician to see if it is appropriate for you.  Or talk to your physical therapist about recommending one for you.


Tommy Hoffman, P.T. By Tommy Hoffman, Licensed Physical Therapist



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