TENS on front of neck making swallowing difficult - any advice?

Just moved back to the states after 6 years in Japan. While there, a neurologist suggested trying TENS to reduce a tingling sensation in my jaw and forearms since an MRI had ruled out MS. I went to a TENS place where a seemingly untrained technician put a high energy TENS unit on the front-sides of my neck. The left-front of my neck shaked intensely with the electricity. The right-front had almost no response. After leaving the building, my head had a strong pull to the right. I returned the next week to see if they could fix it, and the only person who spoke English was the same untrained technician who said he might be able to fix it by doing the same thing. I didn't know better and let him try. No luck. Returned a third time and asked for another opinion: the head of the place said he had never seen a similar issue before, and he suggested it might be fixed if I continued to have high energy TENS on the front of my neck. For the next 1.5 years my neck has pulled to the right, needing a hand on my jaw to counteract the pull and reduce neck muscle strain. In the last couple months, the issue seems to have gotten worse with swallowing feeling like it only happens on the left side of my neck. Back in the states now, I'm looking up TENS online and find every site saying the same thing: "Never put TENS on the front of your neck." -- but I'm having trouble finding anything suggesting how to recover after it's already happened. I saw my physician who hadn't heard of this issue before. Also saw a neurologist last week who did a variety of checks and concluded my "neck muscles are normal and swallowing is normal", advising me to do nothing about it. Swallowing sure doesn't feel normal, and I'm concerned since it's gradually getting worse over time. Apologies if this isn't the appropriate forum to ask this question, but I saw a number of posts here from people who are highly knowledgeable about TENS and thought someone might be able to suggest something. I'm seeing a physical therapist now who taught me to stretch my SCM muscle on my neck, but it feels like some of the issue might be deeper. Not sure what to tell my physician or if I should try things like acupuncture. Appreciate any suggestions.

EDIT: upon further reading, it appears it was an EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) device on my neck which caused the contractions, not TENS. Many sites advise against using EMS on the front of the neck as well, but I can't find anything on how to reverse the damage after the fact. Appreciate any guidance.

Last edited by

12 Replies

oldest β€’ newest
  • TENS units are often harmless, but as you discovered, can cause problems. I accidently exacerbated a herniated disc using TENS. Nerves take a long time to heal. Do you have a medical-type body worker/massage besides physical therapy?

  • Thanks for the reply. Confirming I'm seeing a cranial sacral therapist weekly, and tried one deep tissue massage, not directly on the neck, but trying to re-balance supporting muscles. Recovery seems to have hit a plateau, and swallowing is gradually getting worse.

  • Hi Michael I know over here in Britain there are guidelines using electrical equipment that you mention and that you should never ever use them anywhere above the heart but I know you went to people whom you thought were experts - don't know what to suggest - if Ken one of our admin Fibro friends sees your post - he uses electrical gizmos for pain relief - maybe able to give you some advice. Wish you well in your quest for some relief. Take care πŸ€—πŸ€—

  • I use a Tens on shoulders sometimes and certainly there is advise about placing on the back of the neck so I am not sure toolie where you get the information about not using above the heart.


  • Using a TENS or EMS on the front of the neck is not advised because there is no real bone in that area and the machine can effect your speech and other organs that are exposed.

    If you have damage to these organs you will need to discuss that with your GP. Hopefully given time your throat and important organs will recover

    EMS uses lower frequencies that a TENS and is used to tone muscles. You will see adverts advertising large pads on chest and muscle groups on the tummy area, this gives the term six pack

    If you are still having problems with your Jaw, a Tens can be used the problem there of course is the ear and the vibration may upset your hearing.

    If you are determined to use a pulse devise discuss the use of a Pain Pen, although again I would suggest you take advice before using them, as I do not have this little bit of kit.

    With regards your throat you may find heat pads designed for the neck may help recovery.

    You could also try a firm neck collar in the evening as you go to bed, again discuss that with your Doctor as I am not a Health Professional.

    When I need advice on neck nerve stimulation a Physio may help, I normally put pads on the shoulder joint to arm and the other pad around C2/C3. That would clear pain associated with neck problems, I would not use the machine around the base of the skull

    Body Clock is a Company I have used before in the UK, they may be able to advise regarding your problem. They have been around for a good time, they should be all knowing ???

    I see you are seeking professional help at this time. I would be interested how you eventually get on, it sounds like tendons could have been effected again I am not a Doctor.

    Keep a hold


  • Thanks B exactly. Take care πŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜

  • To use Electrical TENS or EMS over the heart can cause the heart to effect the beat, again I am not a Doctor, although I would say stay away from left/centre where the heat is located


  • I don't think you are supposed to use on the front near your heart and don't don do what I did , years ago I had such a bad headache. so I put it on my temple thank goodness my hub was there because I couldn't reach up to stop it , I screamed he jumped up pulled the wires , ever doing that again it hurt so bad x

  • Looks like deejames has now got his/her answer. Thanks Matrix πŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜πŸ˜˜

  • I use a tens machine on acupuncture setting for pain in lower back but in the instructions it warns not to use around heart or neck or on head anywhere :-/

  • My old cheap 10 quid one never mentioned anythin prob cos instructions were in chinese but the last one was boots own brand and warned not to use on neck under any circumstances and my new one wwhich is programmable etc and cost a few quid more but u get what u pay for warns under no circumstances to use on head neck or heart warning of severe damage possible to nerves etc

  • If you are concerned about your swallowing function you may need a referral to a Speech Language Pathologist who can evaluate, diagnosis and treat you. Good luck

You may also like...