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Electric Pulse Therapy: What It Is, How It Works, And How To Apply

A large and long wing iTENS electrodes with refill gel pads

Electric pulse therapy is a non-invasive form of electrotherapy that uses low-voltage electric currents to provide pain relief. This is also known as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy. It works by triggering the natural mechanisms of the body to alleviate pain, such as the pain gate mechanism and endorphin release. To use one, the user must apply the TENS pads on muscles near the pain source and adjust the settings accordingly.

TENS machines help many people with various conditions. These devices, often seen in medical settings, are available online or in pharmacies. They are convenient and portable machines that help many people. Nevertheless, consulting a healthcare provider before using TENS is recommended. They can ensure that electric stimulation suits the overall health condition and advise how to use the machine. This article will present information about TENS therapy, how it works, and how to use it.

What Is Electric Pulse Therapy

Electric pulse therapy or TENS therapy is a non-invasive form of electrotherapy many people use for pain relief for acute and chronic pain conditions. It is typically composed of a controller and electrode pads that users must apply externally on the target areas. These deliver low-voltage electrical currents to the body.

TENS machines are commonly seen in medical settings, such as hospitals and pain clinics. However, people may also buy personal TENS units without medical prescriptions. These are available online and in pharmacies. These machines typically have a frequency range of 1-150 Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mA.  Many also offer preset modes for convenient electrical nerve stimulation.

Generally, there are two types of TENS machines: wired and wireless. Wired or handheld units use lead cables to connect the central unit and the electrodes. They can have a single channel, dual channels, or quad channels, each allowing a pair of electrodes to connect. Meanwhile, wireless units utilise Bluetooth to link the controller and the electrode pads.

Conditions It Can Treat

  • Fibromyalgia: a chronic condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, and general fatigue.
  • Arthritis: the inflammation of one or more joints. It causes aches in adults and children alike. It also causes the joints to ache and become stiff.
  • Sciatica: caused by pressure or injury to the sciatic nerve. This can cause aches in the buttocks down to the legs.
  • Migraines: pulsating headaches that may last for days. It can cause nausea and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Sports injuries: this includes muscle strains, sprains, and fractures.
  • Post-operative pain: aches that radiate throughout the body after surgery.

A person placing a large iTENS electrode on the lower back

How Electric Pulse Therapy Works

Electric pulse therapy triggers mechanisms in the body that temporarily alleviate pain. This is done by adjusting the settings of the machine according to the condition of the individual. Users may adjust the frequency, intensity, and pulse-width settings for optimal relief. This adjustable treatment is one advantage of TENS machines.

High-frequency stimulation (50-120 Hz) can trigger spinal nerve cells to block the transmission of pain signals from reaching the brain. This is the mechanism described in the Gate Control Theory of Pain. It is ideal for acute pain conditions because it takes effect quickly. Moreover, it can increase blood flow to the target area, which promotes healing. This also relaxes sore muscles and aids in reducing muscle spasms.

Meanwhile, low frequencies (2-10 Hz) stimulate the motor nerves and trigger the production of endogenous opioids. These hormones are natural painkillers that bind to opioid receptors and reduce the overall pain intensity. Many use this for chronic pain conditions because the effects can last hours after the session. In addition, endorphins can help reduce inflammation, increasing muscle function and the range of motion.

Advantages Over Other Relief Methods

There are several advantages to using TENS therapy over other relief methods. Firstly, TENS is non-invasive. This removes the risks of infections and other complications from procedures like injections and incisions. Secondly, TENS is drug-free. This makes it ideal for those who wish to reduce or replace their medicine intake.

Thirdly, TENS is easy to self-administer. People can easily operate the device without the supervision of a healthcare provider. Lastly, TENS is complementary to other treatments. This is why many use TENS with physical therapy programs like physical exercise. Overall, using TENS can help improve the quality of life.

A woman adjusting the settings on her iTENS electrode

How to Use an Electric Pulse Therapy Device

Using an electric pulse therapy device is a straightforward process. Nevertheless, studying the instruction manual is ideal before using the device to ensure proper use. To start, the user must apply the electrode pads on muscles near or on the origin of the pain. Proper electrode placement is crucial, so individuals may refer to guides to ensure safety.

Next, they must link the pads to the control unit. Once secure, the user may turn the machine on. It is best to start the electrical stimulation on the lowest settings. This can prevent discomfort and sudden shocks, especially for new users. Afterwards, they may gradually increase the levels or select a preset mode.

Generally, TENS therapy sessions last between 15 to 30 minutes. This may vary depending on the settings used and the condition of the patient. Users may also refer to the advice of their healthcare provider regarding their treatment. However, once the time elapses, the user must turn the machine off and remove the electrodes.

Safety Precautions Upon Usage

When using any electrotherapy machine, it is crucial to take safety precautions. Firstly, the user should ensure their device and the accessories are in good condition. Otherwise, it may malfunction and harm the user. Secondly, the individual must stay awake and alert during the sessions. They should also avoid activities like driving.

Furthermore, the user must be careful and avoid putting TENS pads in sensitive areas. This includes the spinal cord, chest, throat, and top of the head. They must also refrain from applying pads on skin patches with irritation and infection. Lastly, do not overuse the unit to prevent mild burns.


Using electric pulse therapy is an effective method of alleviating pain from various conditions. It uses TENS machines to deliver low-voltage electric stimulation to the sensory nerves. This triggers the pain gate mechanism and endorphin production and increases blood flow to the target area. Altogether, this temporarily lowers the intensity of pain and helps the body heal faster. In addition, it is non-invasive and drug-free, making it ideal for many people.

To use a TENS machine, the user must apply the pads to the muscles near or on the pain source. Afterwards, they may adjust the settings and enjoy the stimulation. However, it is crucial to stay alert during the session to prevent adverse events from occurring. Overuse can lead to skin irritation and mild burns to form. Those interested in purchasing a wireless TENS machine may consider the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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