Anyone suffering from sciatica pain can tell you that it’s not an easy thing to go through. This pain can literally make you scream alone and affect your concentration significantly.
However, there are still some things that you can do to get rid of this pain and among them is using a Tens Unit.
Most of you may not be familiar with a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve stimulation, but it’s one of the most effective when dealing with pains of this kind – sciatica.
Electric Shock to Relieve Pain?
It might come as a shock to many people but it’s possible to relieve pain through an electric current – but it has to be in low doses.
A TENS Unit delivers a small current through two patches you attach to the skin. The resulting current from the device blocks the nerve signals associated with the pain so you can live pain-free.
We wrote about TENS unit placement for foot pain in another post, but we are now on sciatica – you will notice that pad placement is a little different but application is similar.
So What is Sciatica?
Well, sciatica is a nerve that begins on the lower back and divides to go each side of the buttocks. It branches once more at the knee and carries on to the feet. This nerve is actually the largest, thickest and longest in your body.
Such conditions as spinal stenosis and herniated disc cause inflammation and irritation of the nerve leading to pain. Sciatica discomfort starts as tingling in the upper thigh or buttocks which becomes worse over time.
It sometimes degenerates into pain, and that distribute to the back of the thigh and buttocks. Eventually, the pain moves further down the leg, and the sufferer can then feel it on their toes – it is not a pretty thing to go through as anyone suffering the pain will tell you.
And because the nerve is so long, the pain may be any place along the hips, legs, back and. The good thing is that you can actually use a TENS unit on any place along the sciatic nerve for pain relief. All you require to do is place the pad in the right spot according to the pain.
You can try different TENS unit settings to determine which is the most fitting for you – people are different and what may feel good for one person may not for another.
The Conventional Remedy for Sciatica
When you are feeling acute and numbing pain, rest can actually help deal with it. However, you should never prolong this rest as doing so can actually worsen the condition.
Exercises are typically effective at preventing and dealing with sciatica – but it will not help if the pain reaches unbearable levels.
Ideally, you should start the exercises as soon as you begin feeling the discomfort – prevention is always better than cure.
Sciatica pain medication is also available, but the most effective are opioids – taken orally. However, they come with a massive addiction risk – meaning that your body can get used to the medication and the pain will only stop after taking the medication.
There are also sciatic nerve block injections that may prove useful. However, they carry a risk of bleeding and infection – but corrective surgery is more invasive.
TENS Unit – What Is It?
This is a handheld device that comes with batteries and pads that you attach to your body. You place the pads strategically, and the device transmits electric current to the target area. But where to put tens pads for sciatica nerve pain depends on individual preference.
For effectiveness, place the electrodes near the source of the pain or the pressure point leading to the pain spot.
For example, if you are dealing with leg pain, you may place the pads on the lower back. A tens placement chart from the physical therapist or doctor may guide you appropriately on placement techniques.
The electric current originates from a pack with batteries. Typically, you can administer the current at timed intervals or continuously – this is depending on the advice of your physician.
TENS unit therapy is ideal for people suffering from musculoskeletal pain, sciatica pain, osteoarthritis, migraines, diabetic neuropathy and frozen shoulder syndrome just to name a few.
The popularity of the device has significantly gone up, and people are purchasing them over the counter – their effectiveness is the primary source of their reputation. However, you should always work with a doctor when using the TENS unit device.
What Makes a TENS Unit Effective?
There are various explanations on how TENS unit work and among the most common is that it obstructs the pain signals from reaching the brain. Another standard explanation is that the electric current stimulates the brain to produce endorphins that distract your attention from the feeling of pain.
Depending on the amount pain you are experiencing, a TENS unit session can go as long as 30 minutes. Others need several hours for the pain to go away. Regardless of how long the session takes, the TENS unit therapy is side effects –free – a plus!
But some people may experience some irritation on the skin as a result of having the electrodes the same spot over and over again – this is always a possibility.
While studies regarding the effectiveness of a TENS unit are somewhat inconsistent, the general view is that the therapy is quite useful. Between 70 and 80% experience relief from pain during the initial stages but this drops to about 30% a few months down the line.
The initial pain relief provides an opening through which a sufferer may start a gentle exercises regimen. A good combination of the TENS unit therapy and appropriate exercises may drive pain away, permanently.
The first TENS unit settings are usually set by a professional – this may be a doctor or physical therapist. It is critical to learning on the appropriate application and placement of the TENS unit. They can then try different settings to determine which one works best for them.
Adjusting Settings On a TENS Unit
The device is pretty easy to use and adjust – no instances of complicated controls and this is a good thing.
Typically, there are three main parts on a TENS unit – you notice this the first time you lay eyes on it. These components are pulse rate, pulse width, and amplitude.
Amplitude is the strength of the current and should be subtle to avoid scalds – as earlier mentioned, this is always a possibility as people want the soothing feeling and pain relief to continue for longer. No matter how bad you want to start on the therapy, take extra care – be gentle on the amplitude settings. The pulse width is how long each pulse takes – measured in milliseconds.
The pulse rate is the regularity of the electrical pulse.
Additionally, the device comes with three other basic settings.
- Conventional and
- Burst setting – also referred to as pulsed
The conventional setting is usually the first and has a high pulse rate, short width, and low amplitude. This setting is typically used on first use, but the pain continues upon stopping the device. Some pain sufferers wear the device at all times and turn it on at regular intervals for relief.
The acupuncture setting delivers high amplitude and low pulse therapy. In most cases the amplitude is close to an individual’s rate of tolerance – it may be difficult for most people to take. But this setting is often more effective than the conventional setting and so preferable.
Burst or pulsed settings is the final on a TENS unit device. The setting employs a high frequency and low-intensity stimuli to bring pain relief. It delivers a steady flow of bursts or pulses that make you feel as if you are receiving a massage.
Laboratory literature indicates that irrespective of the intensity, varying frequencies have a positive effect on pain reduction by activating central mechanisms.
The Best TENS Unit Placement for Sciatica
Pad placement for sciatica is quite critical. You have to place the electrodes on the right spots if you are to experience any relief from pain.
However, you are free to play around with settings and placement to determine the most fitting for you – regarding adequate pain relief and comfort level.
The simplest way to know the best placement spot is to feel the pain area. Use your hands to press gently on the spot you think is at the heart of the pain. If one specific spot elicits the most pain, then it is the most ideal to place the electrodes. Clean and go ahead attaching the pads.
In the majority cases, the aching spots are along the sciatic nerve – you will find them here. Two or four pads are good as they create a passage through which electrodes flow. One pad should be at the top of the painful spot and the other, beneath your sensations.
If you have trouble with placement, a physician or physical therapist can always offer a helping hand and guide you through the process. Non-painful or comparable site placement may sometimes produce the same effect –pain relief. A professional will quickly point you to the trigger points or pain spots for effective placement.
The sciatic therapy is non-invasive and easy to apply. It offers a decent amount of flexibility for people that need to take control of their pain. A professional will be helpful in guiding you on the right electrode placement, but you can always try different placement and settings to determine the most ideal.
The TENS unit therapy is an ‘as needed’ kind of treatment meaning that it can help individuals resume a reasonable level of active lifestyle without any impediments.
Current Research On TENS Unit
Contemporary research on the use of TENS unit is actually conclusive on the matter. The battery-powered portable device has a positive effect on pain – some good news for the doubting Thomases.
Clinical trials, as well as, basic science continues to provide evidence on the effectiveness of TENS unit. In particular, the therapy is quite effective in reducing pain from joint inflammation. Ideally, placement is usually on the injury spot, but it is also effective outside this application area.
The latest research also highlights the effectiveness of TENS unit therapy on inflamed limbs. It helps reduce pain on the injured sciatic nerve so that you can go back to enjoying your life.
While the TENS unit comes with different settings, there is no indication that varying intensities have different effects on pain. The primary objective of the various wave rates is solely for comfort but not pain relief efficacy.
Apart from pain, the TENS unit therapy has been shown to treat the dry mouth condition characteristic of patients receiving radiation and pill treatment for cancer. This is good news for people with cancer.
There is also ground-breaking research in the pipeline that shows that a TENS unit could prove helpful in the recovery process of those suffering from spinal injuries. The stimulation helps in mimicking step-like movement in paralyzed patients.
The TENS placement for piriformis syndrome is among the most effective – others are physiotherapy and intramuscular injection.
TENS unit may not be ideal for everyone. If you have a pacemaker or heart condition of some kind, it’s probably wise to talk to your physician. TENS machine for sciatica in pregnancy should only be in consultation with a doctor.
Do not exceed six hours using the TENS unit as it may lead to numbness.
Pain can take away all pleasure of living taking with its productivity and enjoyment of the simple pleasures in life. The TENS unit therapy can demonstrate effectiveness in relieving sciatic pain which affects lower back, buttocks, legs, and feet. It is easy to use and does not have any side effects.
However, the application should be together with some mild exercises for effectiveness. The effectiveness of TENS unit alone may not be effective over time.