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

TENS for Shoulder Impingement: Is It Effective and Reliable?

A woman in sportswear is holding her shoulder

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS for shoulder impingement, is an effective and reliable treatment. It works by blocking pain signals to provide relief and can trigger the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers. One of the advantages of TENS is that it is a safe and non-invasive treatment option, meaning it does not require any drugs or invasive procedures. However, proper usage and adherence to safety guidelines are essential to ensure effectiveness and reliability.

The common treatment methods for shoulder impingement include ice packs, physical therapy, and pain medications. Many people opt for medications due to their convenience, but they often come with side effects and may not provide long-term relief. TENS therapy for shoulder impingement offers an alternative treatment option that can be used in conjunction with other therapies. This article will provide information about TENS therapy for shoulder impingement, including its mechanism of action and preparations before use.

What is a TENS for Shoulder Impingement?

Shoulder impingement occurs when the tendons of the rotator cuff in the shoulder get pinched or compressed during arm movement. This can lead to pain and restricted mobility. It often results from inflammation or irritation, causing discomfort when lifting or rotating the arm. Regular activities like reaching overhead may exacerbate symptoms.

A TENS for shoulder impingement is a portable device that can provide pain relief. It consists of a control unit and sets of electrodes. The adhesive electrode pads send electrical currents to stimulate the nearby nerves to reduce pain. Moreover, there are two types of TENS devices that individuals can use: standard and wireless.

A standard TENS machine has a handheld push-button remote and wires connecting to the electrode pads. In contrast, a wireless TENS machine utilises Bluetooth technology to link with a smartphone app. This type is favoured by those who seek convenient and on-the-go pain management. Despite the differences, both variants effectively provide electrical stimulation. People may purchase these products online, in pharmacies, or in medical supply stores.

Types of Shoulder Impingement

  • Subacromial impingement: this occurs when the rotator cuff tendons and the subacromial bursa become irritated and inflamed as they are compressed against the acromion bone in the shoulder.
  • Internal impingement: it typically affects athletes who perform repetitive overhead motions, such as baseball pitchers and tennis players. It involves the compression and irritation of the rotator cuff tendons and the labrum against the posterior glenoid rim of the shoulder joint.
  • Posterior impingement: this type of impingement is less common and involves the compression of the structures at the back of the shoulder joint. This usually occurs due to repetitive movements in an overhead position.

iTENS small wing kit

How Does a TENS for Shoulder Impingement Work?

A TENS for shoulder impingement works by employing electrical stimulation to activate various mechanisms in the body that relieve pain. One such mechanism is the pain gating process, as proposed by the Gate Control Theory of Pain. This theory suggests that specific nerve fibres in the spinal cord function as gatekeepers for pain. Electrical pulses can prompt the closure of these gates, preventing pain signals from reaching the brain.

TENS machines can additionally stimulate motor nerves, initiating the production of endogenous opioids. These natural painkillers accumulate, diminishing overall pain intensity. They also contribute to reducing inflammation, enhancing mobility, and elevating the quality of life. Moreover, this process can improve mood and alleviate stress.

Furthermore, TENS machines can assist in boosting blood flow to the targeted area. This aids in relaxing sore muscles and expediting the recovery of damaged tissues and nerves. In summary, by utilising the adjustable settings of a TENS machine, users can experience beneficial effects from the treatment.

Low and High Frequencies

The pulse rate or frequency denotes the delivery of a certain number of electrical pulses per second, measured in Hertz (Hz). Low-frequency TENS (10 Hz and below) cause the nerves to become less sensitive. Additionally, low vibrations give massaging effects. This is the advisable setting for chronic pain conditions.

High-frequency TENS (50-120 Hz) stimulate the sensory nerves to block pain. This has short pulses and intensity, often characterised by strong but comfortable sensations. It is a suitable setting for people with acute pain. It also has an analgesic effect on activity-induced musculoskeletal pain and fatigue and increases mobility.

A hand peeling off the plastic from iTENS gel pad

Preparations for TENS for Shoulder Impingement

Before using TENS for shoulder impingement, it is important to have a consultation with a healthcare professional. They can guide the appropriate use of the TENS unit and help determine the ideal settings. It is also crucial to carefully read and understand the instruction manual that comes with the TENS unit.

Additionally, proper set-up of the TENS unit is essential for a successful treatment. Whether it is wired or wireless, the user should follow the instructions of the machine for setting up the unit. This may include attaching the electrodes to the skin in the correct positions and adjusting the settings to the recommended levels for shoulder impingement.

Furthermore, skin preparation is another vital step before using TENS therapy. The skin should be clean, dry, and free from any lotions or oils. This ensures that the TENS unit delivers the electrical stimulation effectively to the affected area, maximising the potential benefits of the treatment. Overall, these preparations are necessary to ensure the safe and effective use of TENS therapy for shoulder impingement.

Safety Guidelines

The use of electrotherapy devices like TENS necessitates adherence to safety precautions. While it is generally safe, incorrect usage may result in discomfort or unwanted risks. It is important to follow the recommended intensity level and not exceed the maximum tolerance. Extreme stimulation may cause skin irritation, tissue damage, and burns.

When applying electrodes, it is crucial to steer clear of sensitive regions like the head, eyes, throat, and chest. Moreover, refrain from using the device during activities such as bathing, sleeping, or driving. Furthermore, TENS may not be suitable for individuals with heart problems, epilepsy, cancer, and pregnant women.


In conclusion, TENS for shoulder impingement offers effective pain relief by utilising electrical stimulation. It activates mechanisms like the pain gating process, reducing pain signals to the brain. It can also stimulate the production of natural painkillers, alleviating discomfort and enhancing overall well-being. Additionally, by improving blood flow, it aids in muscle relaxation and accelerates tissue and nerve recovery. Users can benefit from these positive effects by adjusting the settings of the TENS machine.

Before applying TENS, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional and carefully read the manual. Proper unit setup, including electrode placement, is vital. The skin should be clean and dry to ensure effective stimulation. Moreover, safety is paramount, and adherence to recommended intensity levels is necessary to avoid discomfort or potential risks. Avoiding sensitive areas and certain activities is crucial during TENS therapy. Individuals with heart problems, epilepsy, cancer, and pregnant women are not suitable candidates for TENS use.

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