Using TENS with a stiff neck/whiplash

This is another common condition where TENS machines can help with pain control and in addition help to return the range of the stiff neck back to normality. The aim of TENS machines is to reduce the intensity of pain at rest or on movement, reduce the inflammation and promote a gradual return to normal function.

The first step is to place one set of electrodes over the neck as shown in chart 1  on page 8 of our Easy Guide to TENS Pain Relief, taking care not to place them on the front or side of the neck, as detailed in our contraindications that we ask you to read carefully.

This may be sufficient in the first instance, but two pairs of electrodes can also be applied later as shown on chart 2, again taking care not to place them on the front or side of the neck, as detailed above.

The next step is to select the timing, pulse rate, mode and intensity and use as often as needed – this may be continuously during the first day or two at an intensity which may be fairly strong and firm to override the pain as you begin to gently move the neck through its full range of movements.  You may feel some mild muscle contractions at first. After a few days it should be possible to reduce the treatment time to shorter sessions of 30-60 minutes and then 30 minutes once or twice each a day as your symptoms improve.

It may also be very helpful to use other treatments at this time in association with TENS machines e.g. analgesics, anti-inflammatories and local anti-inflammatory gel, mousse or spray e.g. ibuprofen or similar and cold or hot packs. Consult your medical practitioner or pharmacist if necessary, Gentle exercise can also be helpful, beginning with passive and then active exercise, including stretching exercises with a full range of neck movements as your condition improves and returns to normal.

Recent Research:

1. Cochrane Database Review, 2009 Oct 7:(4) Electrotherapy for neck pain. Current evidence for TENS shows that this modality might be more effective than placebo but further study is needed.

2. JensenI, Harms-Ringdahl K. 2007. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol 2007 Feb:21(1) 93-108. Strategies for prevention and management of musculoskeletal conditions  – neck pain. For symptom relief this condition can be treated with transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation.

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