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Electrical Stimulation Unit: A Guide on How to Use a TENS Machine

A female news anchor reporting about TENS as a new faster pain management solution

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief. It utilises an electronic device that delivers electrical currents to the body. These pulses work in various analgesic mechanisms. It blocks pain signals and helps the body to produce endorphins. Accordingly, using a TENS electrical stimulation unit is straightforward. Prepare the skin and place the electrode patches. Subsequently, turn on the TENS device and adjust the settings. The duration of the therapy can last from 15 to 30 minutes.

Dealing with different pain characteristics can be debilitating. As a result, many individuals seek a method of pain relief. Standard techniques may include physical therapy and medications. However, they may not always be effective and have unwanted side effects. Conversely, TENS machines can be a lifesaver. It has become increasingly popular as a safe and effective treatment. This article will present the TENS electrical stimulation devices, including how they work and how to use them.

What is a TENS Electrical Stimulation Unit?

A TENS electrical stimulation unit is an electrical device that emits electrical impulses. It sends the pulses to the body via electrode pads attached to the skin. Accordingly, pain clinics, medical professionals, and physical therapists commonly use TENS machines. These health experts often recommend TENS therapy to individuals suffering from various conditions. Athletes may also use TENS to recover from muscle soreness.

TENS devices come in both wired and wireless models. The wired versions connect the electrodes to the central machine via lead cables. Some find it reliable but can limit mobility during treatment. Meanwhile, wireless models offer greater freedom of movement. They do not require physical wires. Thus, it makes them more convenient for active individuals or for use on the go.

The benefits of using a TENS machine are several. Primarily, it offers a non-invasive approach to pain management. It reduces discomfort without the need for medications or surgery. Additionally, TENS devices are compact and portable. It enables users to receive pain relief while on the go. Furthermore, TENS can be a complementary therapy. It can be used along with other pain treatments.

History of TENS in Pain Management

  • The concept of using electric stimulation for pain relief dates back to ancient times. However, modern TENS devices began their journey in the 1960s. Professionals in medical settings initially used them.
  • TENS technology was refined throughout the 1970s and 1980s and became more widely available. TENS machines become more user-friendly, making them accessible for personal use.
  • The evolution of TENS units in the 1990s continued with the advent of microelectronics. It marks significant advancements in the miniaturisation and portability of these devices.
  • As evidence of their efficacy grew, TENS devices started becoming recommended by a broader range of professionals in the present.

A small and long wing iTENS and refill gel pads

How a TENS Electrical Stimulation Unit Works

Foremost, the TENS electrical stimulation unit employs the pain gate mechanism. It centres on the idea that the nervous system can only carry limited information to the brain at one time. The electrical signals from the TENS device can essentially “crowd out” or block pain signals travelling to the brain. As a result, the perception of discomfort decreases, offering relief to the user.

Secondly, the body naturally produces endorphins. These are chemicals that help relieve discomfort and induce feelings of pleasure. The electrical pulses can also trigger the production and release of endorphins. These natural painkillers move through the body, binding to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. As such, this process lessens discomfort and can create a sense of well-being for the individual.

In addition, the electrical impulses can help to improve blood flow in the treatment area. When the muscles and tissues receive a gentle electrical massage from the TENS machine, blood vessels in that region expand. The increased circulation brings more oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues. It aids in healing and reduces inflammation.

Low and High Frequencies

TENS devices operate on principles that engage low and high frequencies. Operating at a lower frequency or acupuncture-like TENS (below 10 HZ), the TENS machine stimulates the production of endorphins. It effectively increases the pain thresholds of the body. It allows individuals to experience less discomfort over time. Low frequencies are beneficial for chronic conditions.

On the other hand, higher frequencies (above 50 Hz) employ the pain gate mechanism. High-frequency electric currents race along nerve pathways faster than pain signals can. The individual feels less pain as the “gates” to pain perceptions are temporarily closed. It is valuable for acute conditions.

A guide on how to use the iTENS app

How to Use a TENS Electrical Stimulation Unit

Using a TENS electrical stimulation unit involves a straightforward process. Initially, carefully select the appropriate electrode pads. Consider the size and shape that best suits the treatment area. Afterwards, clean the skin surface to remove oils or residues. It ensures that pads adhere well and provide optimal conductivity. Then, connect the electrodes using lead cables or to a smartphone via Bluetooth.

Next, position the electrode patches on the skin. Adhere to the proper electrode placement for effective TENS therapy. Once the pads are in place, turn on the TENS unit. Adjust the frequency, intensity, and duration of the electrical impulses. Begin with a low intensity and gradually adjust it until a firm yet comfortable tingling sensation occurs. It should be high enough without causing discomfort.

Throughout the treatment session, monitor the comfort level and make adjustments if necessary. Sessions typically last between 15 to 30 minutes. However, it can vary depending on the response and the advice of a healthcare professional. After the session, turn off the TENS unit and carefully remove the pads from the skin.

Types of Pain that Can Be Treated with TENS

TENS therapy can offer immediate relief from sharp, acute pain. It arises suddenly and often due to postoperative pain, labour pain, menstrual cramps, and sports injuries. Accordingly, TENS treatment can manage chronic pain. It is a persistent discomfort that lasts for months or even years. It may include arthritis, fibromyalgia, and backaches.

Additionally, TENS devices are effective in addressing musculoskeletal pain. It affects the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Conditions like joint pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis respond well to TENS therapy. Moreover, TENS units can aid neuropathic pain. It often results from nerve damage. It may involve conditions like diabetic neuropathies and phantom pain.


In conclusion, a TENS electrical stimulation unit is a valuable tool for managing discomfort. The use of TENS dates back to ancient times, but modern units began their journey in the 1960s. Throughout the years, TENS devices have become popular for medical and personal use. Accordingly, these machines deliver electrical currents to the body via electrodes placed on the skin. It works by interrupting the transmission of pain signals, stimulating the release of endorphins, and improving blood flow.

Furthermore, TENS devices can send electrical pulses in low (1-10 Hz) and high (50-120 Hz) frequencies. TENS therapy can treat various conditions. It can manage menstrual cramps, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and diabetic neuropathy. Moreover, using a TENS machine involves following simple steps. Select the appropriate electrode pads and prepare the skin. Then, place the electrodes following the proper pad placement. Finally, turn on the TENS device and adjust the frequency, intensity, and duration.

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