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TENS Unit After Cervical Spinal Fusion

Faith981Faith981 Posts: 60
edited 01/24/2020 - 2:47 PM in Pain Management Forum

I had my cervical spine fused C4-C7 back in 2015. I've recently been to PT and felt some relief of the pain between my shoulder blades with the PT's TENS unit (the pads put between my shoulder blades). I was considering buying a home unit online. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say the manufacturer here (it's a common brand) but it said you can't use it with any metal implants. It also didn't say this TENS unit was good for relief of upper back or neck pain but it did say you can apply the pads between your shoulder blades, confusing.

I called customer service and the rep said it's NOT recommended I use their unit because I have titanium in my neck. I told her but my titanium is not an electrical device, she said it didn't matter. I thought I was asking in an over abundance of caution and didn't expect her to say I couldn't use it. I pressed her a little more, she put me on hold to ask a supervisor and came back with the same answer. I really think they are confused but now I don't feel comfortable buying their particular device.

I'd like to find a good brand that works well and use pads between my shoulder blades like at PT. Also, I'm hoping the pads are easy to re-buy and don't wear out too quickly.

I was wondering if anyone out there has used a TENS unit successfully after a cervical spine fusion? If your able to tell me the manufacturer I'd love to know.



  • memerainboltmemerainbolt IndianaPosts: 4,697


    I'm sorry, we are not allowed to give out brand names or manufacture's names. But hopefully someone will give you a reply.
    In the meantime, go to the search box at the top right of the page and key in tens unit. Scroll down past the ads and there are articles as well as member discussions.

    Veritas Health Forum Moderator

  • memerainbolt

    Thank you. I have been searching through since my post. If anyone just has any kind of experience/information to share it might be helpful too.

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  • Ask your PT, I have a tens unit that was supplied by my pt, it's a portable unit, if it is deemed necessary your insurance may even pay for it, mine did.

    Take care and keep us posted


  • Fourteen years ago before my first ACDF, the physical therapist I was working with was using a TENS unit for part of my PT treatment process.  It was helping me manage some level of pain/spasms, so he requested that the neurosurgeon that had referred me to PT write a script for me so that insurance would pay for the cost of the unit.  My unit is a four pad TENS unit.  I still have that unit and have used it over the years multiple times unit I got my SCS unit implanted this past fall. 

    I attached the four pads on my upper back over my shoulder blade area.  Now that I have three ACDFs, I have two titanium plates and one ACDF that has titanium as part of the spacer used in the third ACDF.  All of the neurosurgeons and physical therapists I worked with over the years knew I had this  titanium in my neck and continued to encourage me to use my home unit (which was like the same unit used by the physical therapist). 

    I have not idea if insurance companies currently will refuse to pay for "prescription TENS".  Paraphrasing from a web site, OTC TENS are often under-powered devices that offer no real benefit to the user when
    compared with a more effective prescription TENS.  The prescription TENS that I have has many different "treatment profiles" with a wide range of stimulation levels.  I've don't ever remember seeing a four pad TENS unit available over the counter.  I once tried using my unit with only two pads and the effectiveness level was night and day compared to being fully configured with the four pads/contacts. 

    My two cents...

  • Faith981Faith981 Posts: 60
    edited 01/25/2020 - 12:08 AM

    Thank you, challenger & stiffneck7

    I've had a recent injury to my spine so I need to hold off on PT until I get my MRI's. I've recently been in the hospital, they think I had colitis and it might have been from my colonoscopy biopsies, the fact I was on antibiotics or taking Meloxicam for pain, or everything together. The colonoscopy was perfect so my GI thinks it was temporary gastritis but my other doctor tells me to stop the Meloxicam. I was told to only use Tylenol & Flexeril and feel terrible. So I've tried the Medrol 4 mg 6 day pack and have not found relief. While I'm waiting for my next step I almost just got a TENS unit online today. I forgot that insurance may cover it.

    Stiffneck7, is it a hassle to get replacement pads through insurance?

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  • replacement pads will run you about $20 and vary in quality and durability depends alot on use.  I would recommend gettingnone with manual adjustments instead of presets, and get an instruction book or two or more.  Remember, many such books will be editorials and opinions are subjective.  If you had pads on in PT you should be ok.  I would keep them off your neck or any neck, personally, but shoulders should be just fine.  Slowly, adjust the dials up.  Super slow.  The farther apart they are the higher you will need to turn them up.  Also, look into getting a pressure point/accupuncture chart.  Comes in handy for more effective placement of electrodes.

  • Just get what you need and figure out the insurance as you go.  If you wait on them you will be disappointed.  Life is to short and  our time is priceles. They are concerned with how much interest they can make on your money, not on your health or well being.  In spite of healthy clients costing less, they do not encourage health of customers, only wealth of board members.

  • Faith981 - My TENS unit was obtained via a surgeons prescription order 14 years ago.  I didn't have any insurance hassle at the time.  I don't know insurance policy today since they TENS units can be obtained over the counter.  I find that my prescription tens has a lot more treatment options than OTC.  If your are still working with a physical therapist, you might want to ask their opinion.

    Fourteen years ago, the replacement pads from the company that made the TENS were paid by insurance, but the price was ridiculous.  I found that I could buy "after market" pads that were of better quality and they stayed attached better to my skin. 

    I found that the replacement pads worked for me for about a week (I have oily skin), that included removing them every night and wiping off the contact side of the pads with a wet finger and reattaching the pads to the package plastic they were shipped on, then resealing the four pads inside air tight bag that came with the set of pads.  You don't want to have the pads attached to your skin for over 12 hours.  I was able to buy the replacement pads via the internet for two to three dollars per pack when buying 10 packs of four pads per pack.  I used the common 2 inch x 2 inch pad.

  • Faith981Faith981 Posts: 60
    edited 01/25/2020 - 12:02 PM

    Thank you Burnt1 & stiffneck7,

    Burnt1, you are so right about insurance. Almost 25 years ago I had severe pain after an auto accident, I was prescribed a TENS and didn't find relief from the one insurance gave me. It was more of a hassle to get the pads, you have to wait. Plus I'm allergic to adhesive. But when I was at PT recently it felt much more powerful than I remembered and I felt some relief for a bit which I appreciate. The pads don't seem to give me any contact issue when they are on 10 minutes at a time.

    I almost feel like just ordering one I think would be good, because going through a doc would be a while. Years ago TENS was 1,000's of dollars, now it's much easier to buy on your own.

    stiffneck7, I'm oily too, especially my back and will go through the pads quicker than I'd like. It sounds like pads from one brand can work on another brands machine sometimes. Hmm.

    On a manufacturer website that seems pretty reputable I was looking into a TENS & EMS machine combo. My PT didn't seem to interested in me buying a TENS & EMS machine. I got the impression he didn't put much value to the EMS side or perhaps he never uses one. I like the idea that EMS strengthens muscles but I've learned you'd want a professional to give the pad placements to be safe so I'm reluctant to use it by myself. Maybe I'll just get a TENS.

    Anyone have any thoughts on Electrical Muscle Stimulation option that can come with a TENS unit?

  • Burnt1Burnt1 Posts: 11
    edited 02/02/2020 - 4:05 AM

    Faith981 some electrodes have pins and there is at least one other kind of plug in.  also, i am allergic to bandaids but the pads dont bother me.  there is a lot of companies making and selling them.  use your best judgement and read reviews, cheaper isnt always better.  you will probably be looking at a direct current machine also, and the therapist likely has an alternating current model.  so there will be a difference but you should be able to adjust the settings to work well.

  • Thank you, Burnt1,

    I appreciate the insight. In my exploring of TENS units online I saw that there is also some options with some machines to add on EMS, Electrical Muscle Stimulation. It helps strengthen muscles. I learned it form a PT on Youtube. They recommended you consult a PT fist to know where to place the pads safely. Have you ever used EMS, what are your thoughts?

  • I adjust mine manually as far wavelength, hertz, and intensity.  Also I have a pulse, varying, and constant power discharge.  I'm able to get some muscle contractions, for certain lol.  I do use them on occasion to distrupt muscle spasms.  I've got several spinal muscles that get hyperloaded so the spasms are continuous.  They've diagnosis 4 seperate radiculopaties, almost incidentally.  Im at the point where the bone damage has gotten fairly severe, seems to be improving very gradually nowadays.   Honestly, I was frustrated and disappointed with my TENS for awhile.  It was more my own fault for continously over doing it, though, so im using it pretty regularly again.

  • Jerome001Jerome001 Cocoa Beach, FloridaPosts: 328

    I'm fused C2-C6 and L2-S1 and I have a pain pump. I use a TENS unit regularly and I've not been advised to not use one or about any restrictions. Having the pain pump is great but I don't know what I would do without my TENS unit and my heating pad. I found my TENS unit on line for about $50. Good luck! Jerome

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