If you suffer from sciatica, the TENS unit therapy can help you reduce pain and get you back to your life. Sciatica is a nerve-related condition that can cause potentially debilitating pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS unit for sciatica pain provides non-invasive therapy for this chronic pain condition and it’s yielding some impressive results. Here’s what it is, how it works, and who it works for. We’ll also discuss TENS unit placement for sciatica further on if you already have a device and are trying to use it properly to relieve your pain.
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TENS unit for sciatica pain?
Chronic pain is no joke, but if someone told you an electric shock could relieve that pain, would you laugh? It turns out that there is such a thing, but it’s not quite the same as an electric shock you might receive from faulty wiring. TENS for sciatica uses a low-voltage electrical current delivered through two electrodes attached to the skin (usually through a patch of some kind) to interrupt or fully block the nerve signals that create sciatica pain.
Let’s look at what causes sciatica to understand how TENS unit for sciatic pain could work for you.
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What is sciatica?
The sciatic nerve begins in the lower back, where it branches off and goes down each buttock, hip, and thigh. It branches again at the knees and continues to the feet. The sciatic nerve is the longest and largest in the body and, at its thickest, is as large around as a finger. Several conditions, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, can cause irritation and inflammation of the sciatic nerve. When this occurs, the sciatic nerve begins to transmit pain signals.
Sciatica discomfort may begin as numbness or tingling in the buttock or upper thigh, but it often worsens with time.
The discomfort might increase to pain, and the pain can spread from the buttock down the back of the thigh. Eventually, this pain can spread down the lower leg 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 always felt in the back of the thigh, and it is almost 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 might be beneficial. As soon as possible, though, a normal, active daily routine should be resumed. In the long-term, rest may actually worsen pain from sciatica. Exercise is highly 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 often recommended for sciatica pain. However, the most effective oral medications are usually opioids, which carry a heavy risk of dependency. Injected medications, such as a sciatic nerve block, can provide significant pain relief. While injections are less invasive than corrective surgery, they can still risk infection or bleeding.
Another therapy, called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), can provide a totally non-invasive alternative.
How does TENS unit for sciatica work?
There are a couple of different theories on how the TENS unit for sciatica works. The first is that the electrical current interrupts or fully blocks the nerve signals that indicate pain in the 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 may use their TENS unit for as little as one 30-minute session. Others may need to utilize this therapy for several hours a day. This is an easily customized treatment that has virtually zero side effects.
Side effects that do exist may include skin irritation if electrodes remain in the same place for several days. Patients with pre-existing heart conditions, those who wear a pacemaker for such conditions, and pregnant women should talk with their doctors before starting this therapy.
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Although literature concerning the effectiveness of TENS unit therapy for sciatica is somewhat inconsistent, most medical professionals agree that the outcome is 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, if the initial relief of pain allows the introduction of gentle exercises, such as walking or stretching, TENS unit therapy can ultimately lead to very long-lasting relief of pain.
The initial settings for TENS unit therapy are usually determined by a professional, such as a physical therapist or physician. Before going home with a TENS unit, the person using it should be sure to learn from his or her physician how to safely adjust the settings. This way, he or she can try different amplitudes, pulse widths, and pulse rates to see what’s most effective.
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