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Electric TENS Unit: What are the Treatable Conditions?

A small wing iTENS with two packs of refill gel pads

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or electric TENS unit is an electronic device that delivers electrical currents to target areas of the body. Consequently, these electrical pulses are thought to interrupt pain signals and trigger the release of endorphins. As a result of these analgesic mechanisms, TENS therapy can treat both acute pain and chronic pain conditions. Additionally, TENS can help manage neuropathic painmusculoskeletal pain, and muscle-related discomfort.

Different types of pain affect millions of people. It impacts daily lives and overall well-being. Traditional methods of pain relief, like medication and surgery, may not always be effective or have unwanted side effects. In the search for alternative pain management methods, the TENS therapy devices emerged as a promising solution. It is recommended by medical professionalspain clinics, and physical therapists. This article will present how TENS unit electrical devices work, the treatable conditions, and how to use them.

How Does an Electric TENS Unit Work?

An electric TENS unit works through basic science mechanisms. When the electric currents from the TENS device are applied to the skin, they stimulate the nerves. This electrical stimulation triggers the release of endorphins, which are the natural pain-relieving chemicals of the body. Nevertheless, endorphins help to reduce the level of pain intensity and create a sense of well-being.

Another key mechanism at play is the Pain Gate Theory. According to this theory, the electrical pulses from TENS can interfere with the transmission of pain messages to the brain. Precisely, the electric impulses can effectively close the “pain gates” in the spinal cord. As a result, it inhibits the transmission of pain signals to the brain, reducing the perception of discomfort.

Furthermore, the electrical stimulation may have an impact on blood circulation. The currents can cause the blood vessels in the targeted area to dilate, increasing blood flow. This can help deliver oxygen and essential nutrients to the tissues, as well as facilitate the removal of toxins. Therefore, it contributes to tissue healing and reduces inflammation.

Benefits of TENS Therapy

  • Targeted relief: this approach allows individuals to address specific areas of discomfort with precision and efficiency.
  • Versatile: TENS can be used to address various types of pain.
  • Natural pain relief: TENS offers a non-invasive and non-pharmacological method of pain relief.
  • Customisable: with adjustable settings for pulse rate, intensity level, and duration, people can tailor their therapy to suit specific needs.
  • Pre-set programs: Many TENS units come with pre-programmed settings that directly target common pain conditions. This offers convenience and simplicity.
  • Cost-effective: it eliminates ongoing expenses associated with medications, doctor visits, and other interventions.
  • Portable: people can use it at home, work, or on the go.

An elderly man holding his knee with both hands due to pain

Treatable Conditions When Using an Electric TENS Unit

The electric TENS unit is capable of addressing a wide array of treatable conditions. Firstly, TENS therapy can alleviate chronic pain conditions. This persists over an extended period and may include conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritic pain. Secondly, TENS treatment can help manage acute conditions. This typically results from injuries, labour pain, postoperative pain, and period cramps.

Thirdly, TENS devices can provide relief to musculoskeletal conditions. This encompasses a range of issues affecting the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments. Nevertheless, this may involve ailments like joint pain and knee osteoarthritis pain. Fourthly, TENS can address neuropathic conditions, arising from nerve damage or dysfunction. This may include diabetic neuropathies and sciatica.

Finally, the TENS unit can effectively alleviate muscular discomfort stemming from sore muscles, achy muscles, and overexertion. TENS therapy can directly target the affected muscles and ease muscle discomfort. Overall, TENS electrotherapy devices are well-suited for addressing a range of conditions. This makes it a beneficial and valuable tool in the medical field.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

While TENS therapy is generally safe, it may have minimal potential side effects. Mild skin irritation at the electrode placement site is one possible side effect. Hence, it is essential for individuals to regularly monitor the skin and ensure that the electrodes are properly positioned. In some cases, individuals may experience muscle twitching. This is more likely to occur when the electrical currents are set at a higher intensity.

In rare cases, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to the adhesive used in the electrode pads. Therefore, it is vital to check the pads first or use a hypoallergenic pad.

A woman using and manually operating TENS on her hand

How to Use an Electric TENS Unit

Using the electric TENS unit involves several simple steps. Begin by ensuring that the TENS unit is powered off. Connect the electrodes to the central unit using lead wires or to a smartphone via Bluetooth for wireless. Then, identify the area of the body experiencing discomfort and prepare the skin over it. When the skin is clean and dry, carefully apply the electrode patches.

Next, turn on the TENS device. This may involve adjusting the settings, particularly the frequency, intensity, and duration of the electrical stimulation. Additionally, some models may extend a pre-set program. Thus, choose or select the program that targets the specific condition. It is crucial to start with a low setting and gradually increase it as needed to achieve an effective and comfortable intensity.

As the TENS unit delivers electrical currents, it is essential to pay attention to the sensations experienced. The duration of TENS therapy sessions can vary depending on individual needs. However, the advisable duration is 15 to 30 minutes. After completing the TENS treatment, power off the device and gently remove the electrode pads from the skin.

Safety Guidelines

Before using the TENS device, individuals should consult with a healthcare professional. This step is particularly crucial for people with underlying health issues or medical conditions. Subsequently, when applying the electrode patches, it is essential to follow the proper electrode placement. Also, avoid placing the pads on the head, eyes, mouth, throat, chest, bony prominences, and open wounds.

Additionally, do not start with a high setting. This can lead to electrical shock and further discomfort. During the TENS therapy, it is normal to feel a buzzing or tapping sensation. However, any adverse reactions or sensations should be communicated to a health professional.


Overall, the electric TENS unit is a highly effective device. TENS therapy works by delivering electrical impulses to certain areas of the body via electrodes placed on the skin. Accordingly, this electrical stimulation can interrupt or block the transmission of pain signals. Additionally, it can stimulate the release of endorphins and improve blood circulation. As a result, it can treat a wide range of conditions. This may include arthritis, injuries, joint pain, diabetic neuropathy, and sore muscles.

TENS treatment provides a multitude of benefits. It extends targeted and natural pain relief, it is versatile, customisable, and cost-effective. Also, many TENS units are portable and come with pre-set programs. Furthermore, using the TENS electric device is easy. Begin by connecting the electrodes to the control panel. Next, place the electrode pads. Finally, turn on the device and adjust the settings. Nevertheless, it is vital to know the potential side effects of TENS and the safety guidelines.

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