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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

Electrical Impulse Machine: Understanding How it Works

A wireless iTENS with large and small wings electrodes and refill gel pads

Doctors and physical therapists use electrical impulse machines to aid in treatments of various conditions. Some examples of electrotherapy devices are Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Electrical Muscle Stimulation (EMS). TENS uses electrical currents to stimulate spinal nerve cells to block pain signals from reaching the brain. It also triggers the production of endorphins. Meanwhile, EMS machines use high-frequency electrical pulses to induce involuntary muscle contractions. This strengthens the muscles and prevents muscle atrophy.

Both electrotherapy devices aid in the rehabilitation of many patients. They are non-invasive and not addictive. Moreover, individuals can use them up to four times daily, depending on the condition. Some devices are designed for personal use without the need for medical supervision. However, consulting a medical professional is ideal before using any electrotherapy device. This article will present how these machines work, how to use them, and their benefits.

How Do Electrical Impulse Machines Work

Electrical impulse machines are devices that help with different kinds of conditions. Some may focus on providing pain relief. Meanwhile, some aids in muscle strengthening.  They provide non-invasive therapy through externally applied electrode pads that deliver electrical currents to the skin. The effects of the session depend on the settings and device used. 

TENS units are used for relieving pain in various chronic and acute conditions. These devices have a frequency range of 1-150Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mAmp. During the session, high-frequency settings (50-120 Hz) stimulate spinal nerve cells to block pain sensations from travelling. On the other hand, low frequencies (2-10 Hz) trigger the production of endorphins. This allows for natural pain alleviation without adverse side effects to occur.

Meanwhile, EMS devices aid in muscle strength training and toning. They use higher frequencies ranging from 25-400 Hz and higher intensities ranging from 1-120 mAmp. These machines use high frequencies to reach muscle fibres and involuntarily contract the muscles. This strengthens the weak muscle fibres that exercise might not stimulate. Additionally, it prevents muscle weakness or atrophy. 

Applications of Electrotherapy Devices

TENS devices can be used to relieve pain from these conditions:

  • Fibromyalgia – causes widespread musculoskeletal pain
  • Arthritis – the painful swelling and inflammation of the joints
  • Diabetic neuropathy – causes nerve damage, resulting in numbness or pain
  • Migraines – cause severe throbbing or pulsating pain in the head that can last for days
  • Sciatica – the pain, weakness, or numbness of the leg resulting from other ailments
  • Post-operative pain – commonly felt after surgery and may be widespread

EMS machines are used in these situations:

  • preventing muscle atrophy in patients suffering from post-stroke complications and paralysis 
  • during warm-up exercises
  • after workouts to reduce fatigue

An elderly woman sitting on a chair and reading while using a wireless TENS machine on her elbow

How to Use an Electrical Impulse Machine

Individuals can buy electrical impulse machines like TENS and EMS without prescriptions for home use. TENS users may use the device for up to four times daily. However, consulting a healthcare professional is the best way to determine the most suitable amount for the person. They may tailor a specific plan depending on the individual’s condition.

To start, the user should attach the electrodes to clean and dry skin near or on the pain area. Next, turn on the device at the lowest settings. This prevents sudden shocks or discomfort and allows the individual to get used to the stimulation. Afterwards, they can slowly increase the settings to the desired levels. Additionally, some devices have pre-set modes they may select depending on the area and condition. 

Lastly, the user should limit their sessions to the prescribed times. For TENS units, the maximum duration is generally 60 minutes. Meanwhile, EMS sessions last 30 minutes. Exceeding these limits may result in skin irritation and mild rashes underneath the adhesives.

Correct Placement for Electrode Pads

Proper pad placement is crucial for electrotherapy to deliver the user’s ideal results. Individuals can place the TENS electrodes on or near the pain areas. Meanwhile, they should place EMS pads on key muscle groups. It is best to check the guidelines of the device and consult a medical professional before using them. 

Also, electrodes should be clean and sticky. Moreover, ensure that there is a one-inch gap separating the pads. Generally, do not place the electrodes on sensitive areas like the mouth, eyes, throat, and on top of bones and joints. Additionally, abstain from putting the adhesives on infected, irritated, or damaged skin.

The back of a woman exercising

Benefits of Using an Electrical Impulse Machine

Electrical impulse machines provide many benefits to their users. These electrotherapy devices are common in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics to help in many conditions together with other treatments. Additionally, some devices can be used at home to provide immediate pain relief without medical supervision.

TENS machines can reduce or replace the intake of oral pain medications. This allows the users to avoid the many adverse side effects of pain medicines, such as stomach bleeding, headaches, nausea, and depression. Unlike medication, it is not addictive. Since it induces the natural processes of the body to relieve pain. Lastly, these devices shorten recovery periods by allowing for temporary pain-free mobility.

On the other hand, EMS machines help individuals retrain their muscles on how to contract and relax. It reduces the occurrence of spasms during cramps. It also increases blood flow and circulation to the area, which reduces inflammation and stimulates muscle growth. Strong muscles reduce the likeliness of injury and increase body mobility and functionality.

Safety Precautions

TENS and EMS are safe to use for many people. However, some people should abstain from using electrotherapy devices. This is due to their current health conditions that may negatively react to electrical stimulation. This includes people with a history of heart disease, epilepsy, seizures, and cancer. Additionally, pregnant women should avoid using these devices before labour

Moreover, people with electrical and metal implants like pacemakers should avoid using TENS and EMS as they can cause the devices to malfunction. Lastly, do not use these devices while submerged in water or doing sensitive tasks like driving or operating heavy machinery. 


Electrical impulse machines are helpful tools to incorporate in rehabilitation treatment plans. TENS and EMS are the most commonly used electrotherapy devices to aid in many conditions. However, they have different purposes, and the user must have awareness of how to use these devices. They may refer to the safety guidelines in the machines or consult their doctors or physical therapists. Proper use of quality devices allows for better mobility and shortened recovery periods for some. 

Furthermore, TENS devices provide pain relief without the adverse effects of other pain management methods. These are wired and wireless options available for purchase online or in pharmacies. They are available without prescriptions for convenient use at home. It is vital to choose the best device for the needs of the patient. The iTENS from iTENS Australia is an FDA-cleared wireless TENS unit controlled using convenient Bluetooth technology.

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