How to Use a TENS Unit for Migraine Pain

When you are suffering from a migraine or intense headache, you are willing to try just about anything to relieve the pain.  There are many remedies for migraines, but will any of them work for you?

A TENS therapy might be the answer.  Let's take a look at how to use a TENS unit for migraine pain relief. 

Note: This post contains affiliate links.  Please see disclosure for more information.

What is TENS therapy?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.  Gentle electronic pulses are sent into your nerves that reduce the pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.  In some cases, this may help relieve pain and relax muscles along with increasing the production of endorphins, which are the body's natural painkillers.

Types of Headaches and Migraines

Some people try to oversimplify things and consider all headaches and migraines to be the same, but there are actually many different types.  Some of the most common include:

  • Migraines without Aura (Common Migraines)
  • Chronic Migraines
  • Tension Headaches
  • Cluster Headaches
  • Sinus Headaches
  • Menstral Headaches (could also cause migraines)
  • Retinal Migraines
  • Ice Pick Headaches

Different types of headaches have different causes and also symptoms, but they all have one thing in common - pain in the head, although the location of that pain may vary.  In some cases, you can have nausea and sensitivity to light.

Can You Use a TENS Unit for Migraine Pain?

A TENS machine can be used to treat many types of pain including migraines but there are no guarantees.  Studies have shown that TENS therapy can reduce the number of migraine days, headache days, migraine attacks, and pain intensity. (1)

The first step to using a TENS machine for your headaches or migraines is discussing your symptoms with your doctor.   It's not going to take care of the root cause of your headaches but it can provide pain relief.  TENS therapy will be more effective when used in the early stages of the migraine or headache.

man dealing with a migraine, has hands on head

How to Use a TENS Machine for Migraine Relief

It's not difficult to use a TENS machine at home to get migraine relief, but there are a few important things to keep in mind to make sure you get the best results.  Let's go through the process step-by-step.

Start by wiping the skin where you plan on placing the pads to remove any sweat oil or dirt.  Make sure it is dry, then you can stick the pads to the skin firmly in the appropriate area (see section below for more information on where).

Double check that the pads are secure then connect them to the TENS device wires.   Now you can turn the TENS unit on at the lowest setting.  You should feel a mild-tingling sensation. 

For some people that may be enough, if not slowly increase the intensity to your comfort level.  It's ok to feel strong impulses, but if the muscles twitch or you feel strong pinprick sensations, you should reduce the intensity.

When you first start using your TENS machine, limit your sessions to 10-15 minutes at a time so you body can get used to it.  As you are ready, increase the length of each session gradually until you can use it for 30-45 minutes at a time.

At the end of your treatment, turn off the TENS unit and then detach the wires and pads.  Wipe the pads dry before storing away.  Keep the TENS machine in a dry place with its accessories.  

Remember for the treatment to be most effective, start using your TENS unit as soon as you feel symptoms of a migraine. Do not wait for the pain to become unbearable.

You can use a TENS machine several times a day if needed.  Unlike some medications, it is not habit-forming.

Where Do You Put TENS Pads for Migraines?

When you are using a TENS unit for migraine pain relief, the placement of pads is key.  It's definitely something worth experimenting with a bit to find the best spots for you.  

Here are some options:

  • One pad on one temple and the other one of the back of the opposite hand between your first finger and thumb
  • Pads on the back of the neck and/or top of the back
  • One pad on one temple and the other one a bit higher on the forehead on that same side of the face

The Best TENS Machines for Migraines

You can use any quality TENS unit to treat migraines if you put the pads in the right spots.  However, there are a few that are more tailored for the purpose.   With these TENS device you won't have to worry about placing the pads, it's all set for you.

Cunmiso TENS Electric Pulse Neck Massager

With this TENS Electric Pulse Neck Massager you can help the muscles in your neck relax, improve blood circulation, and even relieve migraine pain.  It has been carefully engineered to provide maximum comfort, convenience, and pain relief in a treatment that can be done at home in less than 15 minutes.

There are six different modes and 15 levels of intensity so you can tailor the therapy to meet your needs.  It can also act as a warm compress with the heat option (107.6°F constant temperature).

The Cunmiso massager is ergonomically designed so that it is comfortable to wear.  You can use it anywhere since it is light, thin, and wireless.  After a one-hour charge, the battery will last for 10 days with its 15 minute auto-off function.

Click here to read more reviews and check the price.

CEFALY Dual MIGRAINE Device

This tiny innovative device is FDA-approved as an over-the-counter product for the acute and preventative treatment of migraine headaches in adults (18 years and older).  Unfortunately, it is expensive and not covered by insurance in most cases.  

The Cefaly Dual is a External Trigeminal Nerve Stimulator (e-TNS) placed on the forehead to send electric impulses to the main branch of the trigeminal nerve to prevent and treat head pain.  You won't need anymore painkilling medication, it can help you find a better quality of life. 

The new DUAL device is a big improvement from previous models of Cefaly.   It has been revamped for comfort and effectiveness.  There are two settings: 

  • Setting 1/Acute mode -  one hour per session
  • Setting 2/Prevention mode - 20 minutes per session

The set comes with a detailed instruction manual, one Cefaly electrode, storage case, and power adapter with cable.

Click here to read more reviews and check the price.

Are There Side Effects of Using a TENS Unit for Migraines?

In general, most people will not have any side effects from a TENS machine.  It's a safe treatment but some people may be allergic to the pads.  If you notice that your skin gets red or irritated, you could try using latex-free pads like these.

Is It Safe for Anyone to Use a TENS machine for Migraines?

No, there are some situation where you should not use a TENS device.  Don't try TENS therapy if you:

  • have a pacemaker or any type of electrical or metal implant in your body
  • are pregnant, or you might be pregnant (unless you speak to your doctor first)
  • have epilepsy or a heart issue
  • have a rash, wound, or sore skin, you should not use the device on that area.

What Are Other Non-Drug Treatments for Migraines? 

While prescription drugs can be very effective against migraine pain, they may have side effects.  It's understandable that you are looking for an alternative.  Here are a few ideas:

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Elena Curtis
 

Elena graduated from the Chicago School of Massage Therapy Clinic, and since her graduation in 2008, she's honed her style that consists of Eastern and Western massage techniques. When she's not working with patients, Elena spends her time reading and enjoying nature.

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