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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Apparatus: What It Is and How It Works

The iTENS wireless large and small electrodes with refillable gel pads

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a form of low-voltage electrotherapy. It relieves pain from chronic and acute conditions. A TENS apparatus can come in wired and wireless forms. This device produces low-voltage electrical impulses through the electrode pads. They trigger the spinal nerve cells to close pathways to block pain sensations. Additionally, the stimulation triggers the production of endorphins to relieve pain and inflammation. Thus, TENS therapy is an effective pain management method for many illnesses.

TENS machines are commonly used in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics. However, nowadays, people can also buy one for personal use. These devices are available in pharmacies and online stores. Individuals can buy them without a medical prescription and use them without medical supervision. However, it is ideal to consult a healthcare professional before using electrotherapy devices. This article will provide information on what a TENS machine is, how it works, and how to use it.

What is a TENS Apparatus

A TENS apparatus is a machine that provides pain relief through electrical stimulation. It uses electrode pads to deliver electric currents to the skin. TENS units have a frequency range of 1-150 Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mAmp. Individuals can adjust these settings to alleviate pain from different chronic and acute conditions.

Moreover, there are wired and wireless options for TENS units available for purchase in many places. A person can buy a TENS machine online, in pharmacies, or physical therapy clinics. Handheld units are often used in hospitals and rehabilitation centres. Medical professionals supervise the therapy sessions. Additionally, they prescribe the duration, regularity, and settings to be used.

Meanwhile, wireless TENS devices are more convenient for home use. They remove the restrictions that lead cables cause. Moreover, the patient can control them using Bluetooth technology. Many come with user-friendly interfaces and pre-set modes tailored for different pains and body parts. People can use these while relaxing or doing simple chores.

Types of Pain TENS Can Treat

TENS machines can relieve pain in different parts of the body. These are the two most common types of pain:

  • Chronic pain – described as pain that lasts over six months. This is often caused by underlying health conditions such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, sciatica, and diabetic-related neuropathy. It decreases the quality of life by interfering with regular activities. Also, it may cause depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
  • Acute pain – the sudden and sharp pain felt after an injury. It does not last more than six months and disappears after the wound or injury has healed. This includes headaches, sprains, bone fractures, burns, and cuts.

A person placing a large wing electrode on the lower back area

How a TENS Apparatus Works

A TENS apparatus triggers the natural processes of the body to relieve pain. Using high-frequency (50-120 Hz) stimulation, the electric current induces the spinal nerve cells to block pain sensations from reaching the brain. This process is described as the Gate Control Theory of Pain. These high frequencies are suitable for acute pain. It can provide relief within 30 minutes of the session, and its effects last for a few minutes afterwards.

On the other hand, using low-frequency (2-10 Hz) stimulation triggers the production of endorphins. These are painkilling hormones that reduce pain and inflammation in the targeted area. It is more suitable for chronic pain because although it takes more than 40 minutes to take effect, its pain relief lasts for hours.

Moreover, TENS therapy is a pain management method that can reduce or replace the intake of oral pain medication. This allows the user to avoid the many adverse side effects of pain medicines, like stomach bleeding, headaches, and fatigue. Furthermore, it increases blood circulation, which improves mobility and helps with healing and rehabilitation.

Proper Electrode Care and Placement

Before attaching the electrodes, the person must ensure they are clean and sticky. This helps avoid skin irritation and the pads slipping off during the session. Also, many electrode pads are used up to 20 times. After that, the owner may replace the adhesive to avoid adverse effects. Moreover, they should clean the pads after use and store them in a cool and dry place.

Furthermore, individuals should place the pads on muscly areas near or on the pain origin. The user should avoid sensitive areas like the mouth, eyes, throat, bones, joints, and top of the head.

A diagram showing how to use the iTENS wireless smartphone application

How to Use a TENS Apparatus

A TENS apparatus is safe and easy to use at home. To start, the person must clean their skin with soap and water and then dry it. After, they can place the electrodes near or on the pain area. If using more than one electrode, they should ensure the pads are at least one inch apart to prevent interference. Additionally, with wired TENS, they should ensure that the lead cables are firmly connected to the controller and the pads.

After placing the pads, the person can switch on the machine in its lowest setting. This is a safety precaution that prevents sudden shock or discomfort. Next, they can gradually increase the settings or select a pre-set mode. Sessions lasts from 15 to 60 minutes. Afterwards, turn off the machine and remove the electrode pads.

It is vital to follow safety guidelines when using TENS. Additionally, it is safe to use TENS up to 4 times daily, but the user should take breaks in between. Overusing the machine can lead to adverse effects like skin irritation, muscle fatigue, or nerve damage.

Safety Precautions

It is best to consult a healthcare professional before using electrotherapy devices. This is because some have conditions that will negatively react to electrical stimulation. This includes those with metal and electrical implants because electric currents may cause their devices to malfunction. Moreover, pregnant women should abstain from using TENS before labour. Lastly, those with a history of cancer, seizures, and heart disease should avoid using TENS.

It is vital to read the guidelines from the manufacturer before using the device. Ensure the machine is in good condition before using it, and avoid placing it near water.


Overall, a TENS apparatus is a non-invasive and drug-free electrotherapy device that alleviates pain. It uses high and low frequencies to stimulate spinal nerve cells to block pain sensations and trigger the production of endorphins. Altogether, it reduces the perceived pain and provides other benefits like increased blood circulation and reduced inflammation. This improves the quality of life and speeds up the recovery of those undergoing rehabilitation.

However, it is recommended to consult a medical professional before using electrotherapy devices. This ensures safety, especially for those with risk factors that may negatively interact with electrical stimulation. It is vital to get a reliable unit for effective pain relief. There are many available online or in stores. One good prospect is the iTENS from iTENS Australia. It is a wireless TENS device that uses innovative wing-shaped electrodes and Bluetooth technology to provide convenient pain relief.

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