If you suffer from sciatica, a TENS unit therapy could help you reduce pain and get back to your life? Sciatica is a nerve-related condition that may cause potentially debilitating pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS unit for sciatica pain, offers non-invasive therapy for this chronic pain condition. 

TENS unit for sciatica pain? 

Chronic pain is a serious matter, but if someone told you an electric shock could relieve that pain, you might be skeptical. TENS for sciatica uses a low-voltage electrical current supplied through two electrodes attached to the skin via a patch to interrupt or entirely block the nerve signals that create sciatica pain.

What is sciatica?

The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back, where it splits off and goes down each buttock, hip, and thigh. It splits again at the knees and continues to the feet. Several conditions, like a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, may cause irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. When this occurs, the sciatic nerve begins to send pain signals. Sciatica discomfort might start as numbness or tingling in the buttock or upper thigh, but will typically get worse with time.

The discomfort may increase to pain, and the pain can spread from the buttock down the back of the thigh. Eventually, this pain can until it’s even felt in the toes. Sciatica pain might also radiate upwards, causing pain in the lower back. No matter where else it might spread, pain from sciatica is felt in the back of the thigh, and it is nearly always felt in just one leg.

Traditional treatments for sciatica

During a flare-up of sciatica, or a period of acutely increased pain, some rest can help. As soon as possible, though, a normal, active daily routine should be continued. In the long-term, rest might worsen pain from sciatica. Exercise is extremely effective, both at preventing sciatica and as a therapy for existing sciatica. However, if the pain has reached debilitating levels, exercise may not be viable.

Medications are frequently recommended for sciatica pain. However, the most effective oral medications are usually opioids, and they come with a signicant risk of dependency. Injected medications, like a nerve block, can offer significant pain relief. While injections are less invasive than corrective surgery, they can still risk infection or bleeding.

(TENS) can provide a totally non-invasive alternative.

What Else Can Be Done to Relieve Sciatica Pain?

Sciatica pain can be particularly hard to relieve. This type of pain is extremely unpleasant, and it is typically chronic. If a herniated disc is causing the sciatica pain, whenever the disc gets more inflamed due to exercise or even everyday activity, the pain can get worse. In these types of cases, keeping activity to a minimum can reduce flare ups.

Physical therapy can also be used to strengthen the back muscles, which can limit how much the disc is inflamed as a result of activity. It is extremely important to always consult your doctor and physical therapist about a therapy routine for sciatica and any other back problem.

Something so simple as sitting can also exacerbate a herniated disc. Avoid sitting for extended periods of time, or when you do need to sit, make an effort to get up and walk around every twenty minutes or more if possible. Sitting places all the pressure on the discs in the back, which then further aggravates the sciatica condition.

What is TENS unit therapy? 

TENS unit therapy uses a  small battery-operated remote connected by wires to pads or electrodes. The electrodes are placed deliberately on the body, and the TENS unit transmits an electric current.

For the best results, the electrodes are placed by the painful area or on a pressure point that reaches to the painful area. For example, for radiating leg pain, the TENS patch could be applied to the the low back. The electrical current is controlled by a battery-operated pack the size of a deck of playing cards. The current can be given continuously or at timed intervals, depending on the therapist or doctor’s recommendation.

TENS unit therapy is for those who are suffering from:

  • Sciatica pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Post-operative musculoskeletal pain
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Frozen shoulder syndrome
  • Migraines

This treatment has become so popular that patients can buy affordable over-the-counter TENS units. Even if patients choose to supply their own TENS unit, it is important to work closely with your doctor as you go through treatment.

How does TENS unit for sciatica work?

There are several theories on how the TENS unit for sciatica works. One is the electrical current disrupts or blocks the nerve signals of pain brain. Another theory is that the nerve stimulation caused by the TENS unit helps the brain to produce more endorphins, which then overrides the sensation of pain.

Depending on the level of pain, patients can use a TENS unit with as little as one 30-minute session. Others may need to utilize this therapy for several hours a day. This is an easily personalized treatment that has virtually zero side effects.

Side effects can include skin irritation if electrodes remain in the same place for several days. Patients with pre-existing heart conditions, those who wear a pacemaker, and pregnant women should consult with their doctors before starting this therapy.

Although literature concerning TENS unit therapy’s effectiveness for sciatica is somewhat inconsistent, most professionals agree outcomes are generally positive. Approximately 70% to 80% of patients experience pain relief during their initial use of TENS unit for sciatica. The success rate drops to 20% to 30% after a few months. However, suppose the initial relief of pain allows the introduction of gentle exercises, such as walking or stretching. In that case, TENS unit therapy can ultimately lead to very long-lasting relief of pain.

TENS unit therapy’s initial settings are typically set by a professional, like  a physical therapist or physician. Before going home with a TENS unit, you should learn from your doctor how to safely adjust the settings. This way you can try different amplitudes, pulse widths, and pulse rates to see what’s most effective.

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