Home Healthy Aging How to Use a TENS Unit for Sciatica

How to Use a TENS Unit for Sciatica

by EG
woman having sciatica pain

The TENS unit has been shown to offer pain relief for people without the need for medication. In some cases, it’s paired with oral medication if the pain is severe enough. Using a TENS unit for sciatica can also show positive results.

Bodily pain is far too common as we age. Older adults know this, and younger adults will know it with a few more years under their belts. As almost 40% of adults in the USA experience sciatica at one point in their lives, it is important to understand the issue and find the best possible treatment for it.

Sciatica usually does not last long and resolves in around 5-6 weeks. If you experience sciatica for a longer period, you may want to consult a physician and start treatments. Pain relievers or painkillers are usually not enough, and as you use them for years, you may notice that you develop resistance and that the pain is back. Even before this happens, it may be time to start TENS therapy for sciatica.

What is TENS?

TENS, or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, is a procedure for pain relief that was pioneered in 1974. The idea dates back to the 18th century, but the modern form of a wearable device was invented at this time. Tens is a secure, safe, and proven procedure that can reduce chronic pain caused by sciatica in over 50% of patients.

When you use a TENS device or a TENS unit, the device sends electrical pulses through the injured or painful part of your body. As this happens, your nerves in the area get overloaded and the pain cannot pass through anymore. This means that a TENS unit resolves the issue of pain without any medication or injections – and the results are long-lasting: many patients who use it experience pain relief even hours after the treatment is finished.

With this in mind, TENS can be used for a variety of conditions and states that your muscles, joints, or limbs may be in. If you experience chronic pain due to a sports injury, sprained ankles, injured muscles, or other trauma to the body, this may be the best solution for you. As sciatica is the pain that you may have because your sciatic nerve is compressed, irritated, or injured, this is a good solution for you.

What is a TENS Unit?

A TENS unit is a wearable, battery-operated unit that can deliver electrical pulses to the injured site. It consists of the base – the device that creates the electrical current, and electrodes – self-adhesive pads that you attach to the body. Once in place, you set up the device, such as the frequency, the massage mode, and the strength of the current to the levels that you find comfortable. The device delivers the small current in the form of pulses and helps you push through the day.

How to Use TENS: Sciatica?

When using TENS for sciatica, there are several things to pay attention to. Firstly, you should consult your physician or family doctor. Some patients, such as those that have a pacemaker, insulin pump, or other wearable devices should not use a TENS unit. Secondly, you may want to speak with the physician about any other conditions that you may have, that would be counter-indicative of the use of a TENS unit.

Once cleared, you should purchase your TENS unit. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best TENS units on the market today. When choosing the unit, look for reviews, rather than the price. When using a TENS unit for sciatica, you should consider the number of pads and battery life as well. Ideally, you should be looking for a device with at least two pairs of pads and battery life long enough to last you for a day at least, longer if you travel often.

Where to Place a TENS Unit for Sciatica?

Knowing where to place Tens unit pads is the most important part of finding pain relief from the unit.

tens unit for sciatica pad placement

If you experience sciatica pains due to the injured or compressed nerve, you should consider placing the pads on the upper parts of the buttocks. Only place them on the side of your behind that experiences pain. Doing so on the other side will produce no effect unless you experience pain on both sides of your body.

When you attach the pads, their placement relative to each other is also very important. Imagine that a current runs from one pad to another in a pair. Now imagine a line where you imagined electricity. The line should go through the center of the pain. If the area in pain is larger, you should also consider using two pairs of pads, where the imaginary lines of current flow should make a criss-cross pattern through the center of the painful area.

How Long to Use the TENS Unit for Sciatica

Once the pads are in place, you should experiment with the mode and the strength of the current. In most cases, you will be fine with medium settings, although you should consider starting with the lowest possible current and then building up as you get used to the sensation. While some people experience hot or cold sensations, others say that wearing the device is like a gentle massage.

When using the TENS unit for sciatica, the treatments should be 15-30 minutes long. If you opt for a shorter session, you may not experience the relieving effects. If you use it for longer, you risk a sore muscle and subsequent pain. Always start small and build up when you feel confident.

How Often to Use a TENS Unit for Sciatica

Depending on the severity of the pain and how long you are pain-free after the TENS treatment for sciatica, you should ideally use the TENS unit three to four times a day. Needless to say, this is very individual. While some people say that one to two treatments are enough, some go as high as 5-6.

The rule of thumb is to always listen to your body and follow the signals it sends you. Pain, discomfort, burning sensation, and numbness in the area are never good things. Likewise, not feeling a thing while the device is on may mean that you are not receiving the benefits you should. With this in mind, experiment and see what works for you. Never forget that you should not use TENS on:

  • Damaged skin,
  • Skin covered in burns,
  • Skin that was operated on in the recent weeks, or even months.

5 Best TENS Units in 2022

1) MAGIC TENS Unit – offers 12 electrodes, for treating up to 6 painful spots at once. It has a built-in EMS function, as well as a rechargeable battery with 10 hours of work time. Programmable times (up to 90 minutes), dual channel stimulation, and replaceable pads are all available in this unit.

Tens Unit Muscle Stimulator Machine - Dual Channel Electronic Pulse Massager, Tens EMS Machine for Pain Relief Therapy with 10 Electrode Tens Unit Replacement Pads (2"x2")
  • Multi-functional & Professional: Tens Electric Massager with 22 Modes, 40 Levels Intensity for Pain and Muscle Relief. TENS unit help relieve pain associated with sore and aching muscles in the shoulder, waist, back, neck, upper / lower extremities(arm/leg) due to strain from exercise, overwork or normal household work activities. Activate specific natural pain gate mechanism, relax your body anytime you feel the need with our professional grade TENS electrotherapy pulse massager and accessories
  • A/B Dual Channels: You can operate it with different intensity settings for each channel to pain relief therapy. With portable size, it can be used in home, office, driving or travelling. It is with human body simulation technology, microcomputer intelligent control technology, simulates a variety of massage methods. The Tens Unit is also intended to be used to stimulate healthy muscles in order to improve and facilitate muscle performance

2) Nue Medics TENS Unit – has 10 pads and can treat up to 5 painful areas at once. It has a built-in battery and pre-programmed modes for different body parts. Dual channel muscle stimulation and a built-in timer are extra features this TENS unit offers.

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3) TechCare TENS Unit – a rechargeable TENS with up to 10 hours of use time. It is the best on our list for battery life. It has two pairs of pads, for treating 1-2 painful spots at once. It has two channels so that the units can deliver different stimuli to the muscles. It also has a protective travel case and can be recharged through the computer USB port or wall outlet.

Tens Unit TechCare Plus 24 Massager Muscle Stimulator Device Machine Pulse Massager with Protective Cover Case Sciatica Plantar Fasciitis Tennis Elbow Back Shoulder Neck
  • WHAT IS TECHCARE MASSAGER : It is a combination of TENS and PMS device, drug free method of pain relief used by Physical Therapists and prescribed Doctors for over 40 years. TechCare Massagers delivers low-voltage pulses to the skin to stimulate nerve fibers effectively blocking the pain signal to your brain. Also increases natural endorphins . There will be NO need for pain pills ANYMORE!
  • FEATURES : Multi preprogramed massage modes. Tapping, Acupuncture, Deep Tissue, Foot, Cupping, Combo. Adjustable 10 to 60 minutes timer by using " T " button. Rechargeable internal lithium battery. Up to 20 hours continues use. A-B Output will allow you to use it as 2 separate users.

4) HiDow XPD TENS Unit – offers 12 modes for a more specific approach to pain sources. It has a built-in timer and a rechargeable battery. With fine-tuning of up to 20 strength levels, it is perfect for beginners and all those with skin sensitive to tickling.

HiDow XPD Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit 12 Modes Muscle Stimulator Pain Relief Therapy Electronic Pulse Massager for Sore Muscles in Your Shoulders, Back Sciatica Pain, Ab's, Legs, Knee's and More
  • 12 preprogrammed massage mode, 20 levels of strength adjustable by increasing or decreasing steadily. Effective for back pain, arthritic or inflamed discs/ joints, shoulder tension neck pain and many more injuries and disabilities would benefit from.
  • Dual output design, 4 pcs of self adhesive conductive reusable pads , replaceable self-adhesive conductive gel pads,

5) Beurer EM44 TENS Unit – with 50 intensity levels, the Beurer EM44 TENS is the most adjustable version there is. You can also set the frequency of the pulses themselves, as well as choose between two channels and 3 customizable programs.

Beurer EM44 TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator with 50 Intensity Levels for Muscle Pain Relief, Includes 4 Electrode TENS Pads, Belt Clip, and Batteries with Tens Machine
  • TENS PAIN RELIEF: The EM44 tens unit is non-invasive, drug-free muscle pain relief for the lower back, shoulders, elbows, knees, thighs, calves, or ankles – also a great sciatica pain relief device
  • TARGETED APPLICATION: TENS unit muscle stimulator works by providing targeted electrical stimulation to muscle pain, this current intercepts pain signals to the brain and provides natural relief

How to Care for Your TENS Unit

A TENS unit is a small, wearable, and robust device. It is one of the best treatments for pain that you get, as it involves no drugs and no injections to the painful site. When you use a TENS unit, it is important to keep it clean, dry, and far away from water or water splashes. As this is an electronic device, it may get damaged when wet.


Your TENS device is operated by batteries. Most models out there use AAA batteries, although models with AA batteries or built-in, rechargeable batteries exist as well. Avoid short charge times or using the device while it is being charged. Rather, charge it until full and use it until the battery level drops to around 10%. This will extend your battery life and will ensure that you prevent total discharge – something that you can only resolve with professional help.

Replacement Pads

Replacement pads, on the other hand, should be replaced periodically. As they are affordable and usually come in large packs, you can pre-purchase many and keep them around. A replacement pad is not single-use, though. It can be used many times over. Once you notice that the pad does not stick to your skin anymore, try washing it and giving it another go.

Syrtenty TENS Unit Pads 2"X2" 44 Pcs, 3rd Gen Reusable Latex-Free Replacement Pads Electrode Pads with Upgraded Sticky Electrode Pads Gel and Non-Irritating Design for Muscle Stimulator Electrotherapy
  • UNIVERSAL COMPATIBILITY - Our TENS model pads are designed to fit your muscle stimulation machine with pigtail snap connectors sized 1.8 - 2.5mm.
  • REUSABLE - This bulk pack of TENS electrodes can be used multiple times for optimal relief from discomfort. Simply use the resealable package to keep your pads fresh and clean.

If it still does not stick, it may be time to purchase another pair of replacement pads. You can find these in most online stores, such as Amazon and eBay. When purchasing them, pay attention to their size and durability. Wrong-size pads may not fit your device.

Other Remedies for Sciatica

Besides TENS, there are also other ways to treat sciatica. Hot and cold compresses and alternating hot and cold showers are known to help relieve sciatica pain. Besides these, any exercise (be careful here) that increases blood flow to the area without causing pain in exercising will have a beneficial effect. Yoga for seniors may be particularly helpful for older adults. Pain relievers may also help, but you should not use them for extended periods.

Final Remarks

Our final verdict is that a TENS unit is a useful device that can relieve sciatica pain in most patients. In case you are wondering about the effectiveness of a device like this, you should consider getting a smaller unit to test out. If you are satisfied with the results, you can easily switch to a more expensive unit and a more professional approach to treating sciatica pain.

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