How to Use a Tens Unit for Sciatica

Updated July 19, 2017

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, is a form of therapy in which electric pulses are delivered to specific areas of your body to provide pain relief. The electrical impulses used in TENS are delivered via a TENS unit, which is a small battery-operated machine that usually is portable.These units may be used in clinical settings or ordered privately for home use. Sciatica sufferers often find great relief when utilising a TENS unit. Knowing how to properly use a TENS machine will increase your chances of achieving pain relief with this therapy.

Clean and dry the area of your body where you will attach the TENS electrode pads.

Place the electrode pads as close as you can to the source of pain.

Choose the mode of operation you wish to use according to your personal preference or doctor's orders. The conventional mode delivers a steady stream of electricity. Burst mode is similar to accupuncture--it delivers short bursts of stimulation. Modulation is a cycle of bursts and steady pulses that creates a massage-like feeling.

Adjust the machine to a comfortable level and setting. Increase the level of stimulation until it becomes painful, and then back down several notches. You should feel a strong sensation, but it should not be painful.

Leave the TENS unit on for ten minutes to a few hours. The duration depends on what your doctor has prescribed as well as the amount of stimulation you need to obtain pain relief. Speak with your doctor or physical therapist about your treatment plan.

Take off the pads when finished and store the machine as directed.


Check with your doctor first to determine if you truly suffer from sciatica.


Do not use the TENS unit for longer than six hours at a time as it can cause numbness when used for extended periods.

Things You'll Need

  • TENS machine
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About the Author

Jessica Edwards has been a professional writer since 2005, writing for small start-up websites. Publications include articles on eHow, essays in indie magazine "Fallopian Falafal" and "The New Jew," as well as an independent poetry anthology. She holds a bachelor's degree in pre-chiropractic and athletic training from East Stroudsburg and Fairleigh Dickinson Universities, and works full-time as a certified emergency medical technician and firefighter.