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Physiotherapy Machine TENS: How It Works and the Treatable Conditions

iTENS wireless TENS machine kits in large wings, spare long wings, and refill pads

Physiotherapy is a type of treatment that uses physical techniques to promote healing and restore functions in individuals who have been injured or are experiencing pain. One common tool is the use of a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine. A physiotherapy machine TENS is a portable device that delivers electrical signals to the affected area of the body. It stimulates the nerves to treat a wide variety of ailments, such as chronic pain and acute pain conditions.

People often experience pain or discomfort due to injuries, surgeries, or underlying health conditions. While traditional methods like pain medicines can help relieve the symptoms, they can have side effects. Therefore, many seek alternative treatments to avoid these risks. One of these methods is physiotherapy TENS. In this article, we will delve into the workings of a TENS machine, the conditions it can treat, and how to operate the unit effectively.

How Does a Physiotherapy Machine TENS Work?

A physiotherapy machine TENS is a battery-operated medical device that produces and sends low-voltage electrical currents to the body. The device has a controller to adjust the settings and adhesive electrodes. When the electrodes are placed on the skin, the currents stimulate the nerves and provide temporary pain relief by altering the pain signals.

The electrical stimulation causes certain nerve fibres to close the passageway of pain signals in the spinal cord. As a result, it blocks their transmission to the brain. Additionally, it triggers the release of endorphins and other natural painkilling hormones. Endorphins are inhibitory neurotransmitters that help reduce pain sensations and promote a sense of well-being.

Furthermore, the TENS machine offers various settings that allow users to customise their treatment. This includes the intensity, frequency and duration of the electrical pulses. The intensity refers to the strength of the pulses, while the frequency determines the number of pulses per second. Meanwhile, duration refers to the length of time each session lasts. Therefore, adjusting these settings can help tailor the treatment to individual needs and preferences.


  • Pain relief: TENS offers a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. It stimulates the nerves to activate the natural pain-relieving mechanisms of the body.
  • Reduce inflammation: TENS therapy helps decrease swelling and inflammation in affected areas by boosting blood circulation.
  • Joint mobility: TENS improves the range of motion by reducing muscle tension and spasms.
  • Injury rehabilitation: TENS therapy helps accelerate the healing process by stimulating the regeneration of injured tissues, muscles or nerves.
  • Versatile pain management: TENS offers relief for different types of pain in various body areas. This helps eliminate the need for multiple pain medications or treatments.

An elderly man with elbow pain

Treatable Conditions When Using a Physiotherapy Machine TENS

A physiotherapy machine TENS is a versatile tool that can help treat a wide range of conditions. One of the most common uses of TENS is chronic pain. This type is a long-standing pain that lasts more than three months or persists more than the usual recovery period. Chronic pain is prevalent, especially among older individuals. However, it can also happen to anyone at any age.

The common examples are joint pains or arthritis, musculoskeletal disorders, and neuropathic conditions. For arthritis, this includes neck pain, knee pain, elbow pain, and other joints. On the other hand, muscle pain may involve fibromyalgia, chronic back pain and leg pain. Additionally, neuropathic pain includes diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, and other nerve disorders.

Furthermore, another treatable condition of physiotherapy TENS is acute pain. This refers to sudden and short-term pain, typically because of muscle strains or surgeries. The symptoms are often sharp and severe and can significantly impact daily activities. Through the TENS unit, it can provide temporary pain alleviation and promote recovery.

Is It Safe?

Physiotherapy TENS is generally safe when used as directed. It has minimal side effects and is non-invasive. Thus, it offers a safer option than other treatment methods. However, there are certain precautions and considerations to remember when using a TENS machine. It is best to consult a medical practitioner before using a TENS machine.

Seeking medical advice is vital, especially for those with underlying medical conditions like heart problems, epilepsy, or who are pregnant. Additionally, avoid pad placement on sensitive areas (head, chest, throat) to avoid any potential adverse effects. Do not put the electrodes on areas with open wounds or broken skin.

Woman using a wireless TENS device near the shoulder and wrist

How to Operate a Physiotherapy Machine TENS

Operating a physiotherapy machine TENS is relatively straightforward, with a few steps to follow. Firstly, prepare the device by connecting the necessary attachments and using fresh batteries and new electrode pads. Once ready, place the electrodes on the target area and turn on the unit. Ensure the skin is clean and dry for optimal adhesion.

Secondly, adjust the settings, including intensity, pulse duration, and frequency modes. Healthcare practitioners advise to start at the lowest intensity and gradually increase to a comfortable level. Moreover, users may set the frequency to a low level for endorphin production or a high level for the pain-gating effect. Alternatively, most devices have automatic modes that users can select according to a specific condition.

Thirdly, individuals may spend the time for electrical stimulation for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on their needs. Some devices have a customisable timer, while others may need to monitor their session. Lastly, turn off the unit and carefully remove the pads after the treatment session.

Electrode Placement Guide

Proper electrode placement is crucial for maximising the effectiveness of TENS physiotherapy treatment. This will vary depending on the pain area and the specific condition being addressed. Hence, it is essential to identify the target area, such as the specific joint, muscle group, or nerves, for effective treatment.

Generally, apply the electrodes on either side of the most painful spot. This would involve two or more pads for broad areas and one set of electrodes for small regions. For back pain, place the electrode pads on either side of the spine. For joint pains, position the pads on the sides of the joints.


Physiotherapy machine TENS offers individuals a drug-free and non-invasive method of pain relief. It works by delivering small electrical currents to the affected part of the body. This causes the nerves to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain and induce endorphin release. Furthermore, it offers more benefits, including boosting blood circulation and alleviating stress. TENS therapy is beneficial for joint pain, musculoskeletal pain, nerve pain, and postoperative pain.

Operating the device is easy. It involves a few steps, such as proper electrode placement and adjusting the settings. In addition, individuals should familiarise themselves with the features and functions of the unit for effective use. Likewise, there are certain safety precautions to follow. Nevertheless, consulting a health professional is vital to get personalised advice. This is also important for individuals with underlying medical conditions or who are pregnant to prevent any unwanted harm.

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