The TENS Effect – Good Or Bad For Back Pain?

What is a TENS device? Does it have something to do with the number 10?

Abstractly speaking? Yes, if you're trying to measure the level of physical pain you're feeling from time to time, then sure, why not?

Literally? No, it's got nothing to do with the number 10. TENS instead stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (some fancy $10 words here) and is basically about relieving yourself from physical pain.

TENS therapy for back pain might be another way of defining this treatment.

Anyway, the topic of today isn't WHAT it is or any other back pain relief products. No, I want to talk about if it really works for relieving your back of chronic or unexpected pains.

Is it just another placebo? Or is it something real?

Let's find out, shall we?

How Does TENS Provide Back Pain Relief And How Does It Work?

Before we proceed any further, let's just review how back relief products such as TENS or any other TENS pain management devices actually provides any real back pain relief.

The device itself is a pocket-sized machine that you can use anywhere you please, which is handy. The electrodes attached to the device are manually attached to the affected zones of pain on your body and then you turn on the machine.

It sounds simple enough but this is an overly simplified summary of how to actually use the TENS unit. If you want a satisfactory answer and detailed guide on TENS unit placement and how a TENS machine works, then head on over to this article on the effectiveness of a TENS unit and it's basics.

Now on to the more interesting stuff, how (or if) it provides pain relief of the lower back...

The Two Theories Of TENS

There are two valid theories on how the treatment works towards relieving a person of back pain:

  • The Gate Theory: This theory derives its principles from the hypothesis that the nerves of the human body can only carry out one signal at a time. So if the nerves are signaling constant or unexpected pain then the idea is to over-stimulate them with electrical current, thus blocking the real "pain signals" and confusing the brain. This theory has some resemblance to a placebo effect though, but we'll get to that later.
  • The Endorphin Theory: This one is that a TENS unit stimulates the production of substances known as endorphins. Electric current stimulates certain nerves, which send messages to the brain causing it to release these pain relief chemicals. These endorphins then act in a similar manner to conventional narcotics to provide the body with overall pain relief, regardless of the pain area or its proximity and level of pain.

Now we now how it actually works, which you may or may not have known already.

But there's one more question to be raised...

Does TENS Really Relieve The Back Of Pain?

This is a tough one.

Research has proven it to be ineffective and not a suitable replacement for conventional back pain treatments, according to this article on Web MD. But there are people still claiming that the TENS unit helps them achieve back pain relief at a satisfactory level.

Which way should you go?

I believe that it's an incredibly individual question to raise. I mean, what works for one person may not be as effective for the next guy in line.

Another article I found interesting and informative on the topic is this one from CNN talking about how nerve stimulation won't help a bad back. In this article we find quotes from the same person, Richard Dubinsky, M.D., who is a professor of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. His theory on the matter is the same as the guidelines of the American Academy of Neurology, so what he says is something to take into consideration.

He claims the concept of TENS to be a placebo effect. Maybe it is considering the fact that one of the two valid theories of this treatment hypothesizes that an electric current will confuse the brain and block pain signals.

But Does That Make It Any Less Effective On Relieving Back Pain?

No, we need something more definite to close the discussion entirely.

What Dr. Dubinsky and the AAN are trying to say is that a patient with chronic back pain shouldn't solely rely on TENS as a solitary back pain relief product or treatment.

Does that mean that you should stop using it if you're achieving a satisfactory pain relief?

Of course not!

Keep on using it if it's actually helping you, whether it's a placebo effect or not. There really isn't any concrete or definite proof of the TENS unit's success of back pain relief, or any kind or pain relief for that matter.

You just have to keep your ears open for any feedback on TENS from people who have relieved themselves from pain!

And like any other product, there are a few TENS units to choose from, so which is the best TENS unit for back pain?

According to Amazon it's this one which has recieved a great rating. It is also our pick for the one of best ten unit machines.

July 2016

Aleve Direct Therapy- New TENS Unit for Lower Back Pain

Bayer announced a new TENS device for those suffering from lower back pain. Is the new Aleve Direct Therapy really new? Check out our review of the Aleve Direct Therapy TENS unit here


Under $200

Healthmate Forever


TENS and EMS/PMS Support - Dual Channel & 12 Modes


Under $100


TENS + EMS Combo

All in One Simple to Use Device.


Under $50


Tens 7000

Popular tens unit with dual channel and 5 modes

If you're interested in puchasing additional electrodes for TENS units or if you just need new ones, then head on over to this page which has a bunch of electrodes for TENS units.


This discussion can't really be concluded right here, right now.

But we can't go on forever, don't want to cause you any headaches as well as back pain!

So is really TENS units a solution for back pain?

Maybe not a definitive solution, but it's definitely a valid back pain relief product, regardless of it enforcing a placebo effect or not considering that many people have been satisfied with it.

Though according to the comprehensive studies that have been conducted by the AAN, TENS isn't a valid solution for chronic back pain.

The coin could really go both ways here, that's for sure.

You want a medical answer on whether TENS will relieve you from your back pain? Then no, it probably won't. But that doesn't have to stop you from trying, right?

In the end it's all up to you, though follow these guidelines if you decide to roll with TENS:

  • Consult a certified physician or doctor on whether you should use it under your circumstances.
  • Don't use it if you're pregnant or if you have a pacemaker (the electric current might disrupt the pacemaker).
  • Don't set yourself with high expectations of success or pain relief.

Other than that, you're good to go!

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