How to Use a TENS Unit for Neck Pain

Neck pain is more common than you may think and in many cases it can be effectively treated in the comfort of your own home.  If you don't want to take pain medication, TENS therapy may be your best bet.

Let's take a look at how to use a TENS unit for neck pain.

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What causes Neck Pain?

Neck pain can happen to anyone.  It can be the result of bad posture, awkward sleeping position, or even carrying a heavy bag on your shoulder.  A pinched nerve, soft tissue injury, or neck arthritis (called Cervical Spondylosis) can also cause neck pain.

Note that if your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you have shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm this can be a sign of a heart attack or a stroke.  Please get immediate medical attention.  

woman with neck pain

How do you treat neck pain?

In most cases, neck pain only lasts a few weeks and goes away on its own.  Many people take over the counter pain medicine to relieve the pain.  Alternatively, you could try another course of action like massage or stretching that doesn't require any drugs. 

If the pain does not go away, you need to see your doctor.

Will a TENS Unit help with neck pain?

Yes. A TENS (short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit can help relieve many types of pain. It works by sending gentle electronic pulses to your nerves to reduce the pain signals to the spinal cord and brain.

Muscles in the neck will feel more relaxed and more endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, will be produced. Your range of motion will be increased too.  You can start to feel the benefits soon after you start using your TENS machine.

What is the Best TENS Unit for neck pain?

You don't need a TENS unit specifically designed to treat neck pain since you can adjust the pads to target the right area. If you do want a TENS unit for neck pain, the Cunmiso Intelligent TENS Neck Massager is a good choice.

With this TENS Electric Pulse Neck Massager you can get the the much-needed relaxation your neck muscles crave.  It helps to regulate blood circulation too. 

The Cunmiso neck massager has been carefully engineered to be comfortable, convenient, and provide effective pain relief at home. It's lightweight and the U-shaped design fits ergonomically around your neck.

Since there are no wires you can use it anywhere. Just charge it for an hour, then the built-in large capacity battery can last up to 10 days if you use it 15 minutes a day.  It has a 15 minute auto-off function to prevent overuse.

You won't need more than 15 minutes as you can customize the treatment so that it meets your needs.  There are 15 levels of intensity and six different massage modes.  It also has a 107.6°F constant-temperature compress that can be turned off if you prefer.

Make sure you read the instructions for this massager.  You will need to make sure it is fully charged and that the two metal pads have some gel before using the device.

Note that if you have any metal implants, a pacemaker, or dental implants you need to speak with your doctor before trying this massager.

Read more reviews and check the price here.

How to Use a TENS Machine for Neck Pain

It's not difficult to use a TENS machine at home to get relief from neck pain, 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.  Check that the area is dry, then stick the pads to the skin firmly in the appropriate spots - see guidance on pad placement below.  If you are not using a self-adhesive pad, make sure to apply a thin layer of conductive gel to the surface of the flexible rubber pad on the side that will be applied to the skin.

Double check that the pads are secure before connecting them to the TENS device wires.   Now you can turn on the TENS unit 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, reduce the intensity.

When you first start using your TENS machine, limit your sessions to 10-15 minutes at a time so your body can get used to it.  As you become accustomed to the treatment, 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 detach the wires and pads.  Wipe the pads dry before storing away.  Keep the TENS machine in a dry place with its accessories.  

back of a man's neck

Where to Place TENS pads for Neck Pain

To treat neck pain with TENS therapy, place two pads on the lower backside of the neck on either side of the painful area. You can also add two more electrodes on either side of your spine just above or beside the shoulder blades.

Move the pads down the back if the neck pain is lower on the neck or spine.  If you have neck pain that is worse on one side, try putting two pads on the more painful side.

The pad placement will be slightly different for everyone so feel free to experiment a bit, but do NOT place the TENS pads on the front or side of the neck.

How Long Can You use a TENS unit for Neck Pain?

Ideally, you should not use a TENS unit for more than thirty minutes at a time, but there is no real risk to your health, other than skin irritation.

If your skin gets irritated, take a break every twenty minutes or look into pads which are better for sensitive skin. The best answer that we can give, with regards to overuse, is to use it as much as feels comfortable.

How Often Can You Use a TENS Unit for Neck Pain?

As we mentioned, you don't have to be concerned about using a TENS unit for a prolonged period. This means that there is no real issue if you want to use a TENS unit multiple times throughout your day.

A TENS unit can be used as many times as you deem necessary. If you have pain, then it is a good time to use the device. Many TENS units are portable so you can use them even when you are on the go.

The way we see it, one of the benefits of TENS therapy for neck pain is that you can use it as much as you like. Unlike some medications, it is not habit-forming.

More Drug-free Remedies for Neck Pain

TENS therapy is just one way to help with neck pain, but there are things you can do. Consider including these suggestions for your neck pain treatment.

Massage

There are many different types of massage that do a good job of relieving neck pain.  Of course you can visit a professional massage therapist, but that might be expensive.

Alternatively, you could try using a neck and shoulder massager.  If you don't have any massage tools, Indian head massage is an easy technique to try at home.

New Pillow

The wrong pillow could be the cause of your neck pain, so it might be the time to try a new one.  You need something that will keep your neck aligned and supported. 

There is not one right solution when it comes to pillows.  It depends on your sleeping position.   Check out our guide to choosing a pillow to relieve neck and shoulder pain.

RELATED: The Best Bath Pillows That Will Support Your Head and Neck

Heat or Cold Therapy

You can also try using ice or heat therapy on your neck. When used correctly, they can treat swelling, pain, injury, inflammation, tension, and soreness.  There are hot and cold packs that are specifically designed for the neck.  Check out the options here.

Exercises

There are exercises that you can do on your own at home to help improve your flexibility which can help relieve pain and even prevent it from happening again.  Check out the video below for some ideas.

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Natalie Bell
 

Natalie was introduced to massage therapy and manual therapy after health issues of her own. After she experienced the power of massage first hand, she decided to study the art of massage and formalized her knowledge in Arizona Western College.

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