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TENS For Muscle Pain: What It Is, How It Works, And How To Apply

A woman in sports wear showing her back muscles

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS for muscle pain, is a therapy that uses an electronic device to send electrical pulses as a method of pain relief. Accordingly, this electrical stimulation works in various ways. It can interrupt the transmission of pain signals, trigger the release of endorphins, and enhance blood flow. Furthermore, to apply TENS therapy, individuals should identify the treatment region and position the electrode pads. Then, turn on the device and adjust the settings.

Muscle discomfort can range from acute pain to chronic pain, and finding an effective treatment can often be challenging. Traditional pain management methods often involve pain control medications or invasive procedures, which may not be suitable for everyone. Fortunately, there is TENS therapy that offers a promising alternative and positive effect for relieving discomfort. This article will present TENS therapy for muscle discomfort, how it works, and how to apply it.

What is a TENS for Muscle Pain?

TENS for muscle pain involves using an electrical device that delivers low-voltage electrical pulses to the body through electrode patches applied to the skin. Physical therapists, pain clinics, and pain management professionals often use TENS as a part of their treatment plans for patients with muscle discomfort. Additionally, individuals may use TENS at home to alleviate pain symptoms.

The TENS devices come in two main types: wired and wireless. Wired TENS are connected to the electrodes with wires. Meanwhile, wireless TENS units eliminate the need for lead cables. This offers greater freedom of movement while undergoing TENS therapy. Users can control the electronic stimulation manually or with a smartphone via Bluetooth technology.

Furthermore, both devices have numerous features to enhance user experience. Most TENS units have adjustable settings to modify the pulse width, pulse amplitudes, and pulse duration. Accordingly, some TENS models have pre-set treatment programs for different types of pain. This may involve a program for joint pain, labour pain, menstrual pain, postoperative pain, arthritis pain, and muscle discomfort.

Causes of Muscle Pain

  • Overuse, sore muscles, or strain of the muscles, which can happen during physical activity or repetitive movements, can cause muscle discomfort.
  • Conditions like fibromyalgia can contribute to the ongoing discomfort.
  • Certain health issues, such as infections, autoimmune disorders, and muscle disorders, can lead to muscle pain.
  • Nerve pain or nerve compression can result in radiating muscle ailment.
  • Poor posture, muscle imbalances, and tension can contribute to the condition.
  • Stress and anxiety can also cause muscle tension and discomfort.
  • In some cases, medications or side effects from certain drugs can lead to muscle pain as well.

A man using a small wing TENS on his arm

How a TENS for Muscle Pain Works

TENS for muscle pain works by employing a few key mechanisms. Firstly, TENS may stimulate the production and release of endorphins. These are the natural chemicals of the body that act as natural painkillers. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, reducing the perception of discomfort. Additionally, it can induce a sense of well-being.

Secondly, TENS operates on the pain gate mechanism. This involves the modulation of pain signals as they travel to the brain. When the TENS device delivers electrical signals to the nerves, it can effectively “close the gate” on the transmission of pain messages. Hence, it prevents them from reaching the brain and registering as discomfort. This helps to diminish the perception of pain intensity.

TENS may also help improve blood flow in the treatment area. By stimulating the nerves with electrical energy, TENS can cause vasodilation. This increased blood circulation can help deliver essential nutrients and oxygen to muscles. Therefore, it contributes to healing and reducing muscle discomfort. Overall, TENS works by capitalising on these mechanisms to provide a method of pain relief.

Benefits of Electrotherapy

Foremost, TENS provides a non-invasive approach to alleviate muscle discomfort. It does not require any surgical procedures or insertion of instruments into the body. Accordingly, TENS is a drug-free method of pain management. Hence, it offers a more natural and holistic approach. Also, TENS is customisable. This allows people to modify the frequency, intensity, and duration of electrical stimulation.

Another significant benefit of TENS is its portability. This enables individuals to wear the TENS unit discreetly and continue with their regular routines. Additionally, TENS is considered cost-effective. It eliminates the ongoing cost of oral medications or frequent visits to medical practitioners.

A woman manually operating TENS on her back

How to Apply TENS for Muscle Pain

Applying TENS for muscle pain involves several key steps. Begin by preparing the TENS device. This may include checking the unit to see if it is adequately charged or has fresh batteries. Accordingly, connect the electrodes to the central unit using lead cables or a smartphone for wireless devices. Then, identify the area of the muscle pain and clean the skin to remove any substances.

Next, position the electrode patches strategically on the skin over the area of muscle pain. It is essential to follow proper pad placement to determine the most appropriate placement for the specific type and location of muscle discomfort. After the electrodes are in place, turn on the device. The user may modify the settings or choose a pre-set program.

Nevertheless, it is vital to start with the lowest setting and gradually increase it to a comfort level. During the session, pay attention to any sensations and make adjustments. The treatment duration may last between 15 to 30 minutes. After the treatment session, turn off the TENS unit and carefully remove the electrodes from the skin. Store the device properly for future use.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

One potential side effect is skin irritation at the electrode placement site. Hence, it is essential to monitor the skin during and after TENS use and follow proper skin care protocols. Some individuals may experience muscle twitching during the therapy. Adjusting the settings and pad placement can often alleviate these sensations.

In rare cases, some people may experience allergic reactions to the materials in the electrodes or the gel used to improve conductivity. If any signs of allergic reaction occur, it is important to discontinue the therapy and seek professional help. Overusing TENS or improper application can also lead to muscle soreness or fatigue.


Muscle strains, health issues, and nerve compression are some of the causes of muscle discomfort. Fortunately, there is TENS for muscle pain. It uses a wired or wireless device to deliver electrical currents to the body. This is possible due to the electrode pads placed on the skin. Accordingly, this electrical stimulation works in different mechanisms. It blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain, prompting the release of endorphins, and improves blood flow in the treatment area.

Furthermore, TENS offers a wide range of benefits. It is non-invasive, drug-free, portable, customisable, and cost-effective. To apply TENS, one must prepare the device. Then, locate the specific area of the muscle pain. Clean the skin and position the electrodes. Lastly, adjust the settings and activate the stimulation. Nevertheless, it is crucial to know the potential side effects of TENS. TENS devices are available in numerous stores, including the online retailer iTENS Australia.

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