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TENS Machine for Chronic Pain: What Conditions Can It Treat?

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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS therapy, is one of the techniques for managing various pain conditions. It is commonly used in healthcare settings like physical therapy and rehabilitation. A TENS machine for chronic pain is a device that sends mild electrical impulses to the body through electrode pads. It offers comprehensive relief to numerous conditions, such as arthritis, sciatica, fibromyalgia, bursitis, and other types of chronic pain. This versatility makes the TENS device a cost-effective measure for many people.

When it comes to pain management, safety and efficacy is the top priority for most people. Traditional methods include analgesic medication and physical therapy. However, these methods may not be suitable for everyone. Hence, alternative treatments like TENS are gaining popularity for their effectiveness and convenience. This article will present how TENS machines work, the conditions they can treat, and the general guidelines for safe use.

How a TENS Machine for Chronic Pain Works

A TENS machine for chronic pain is a portable, battery-powered device with a set of controls and adhesive electrode pads. The controls allow users to modulate the strength and patterns of the electric currents based on their comfort level. Moreover, it comes in different types, such as standard wired and wireless units. These options enable individuals to choose a device that works best for them.

TENS works by stimulating the nerves to block pain signals and release endorphins. The first method utilises high frequencies (50-120 Hz). At this level, a TENS machine induces certain nerve fibres in the spinal cord to stop the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

In contrast, using low frequencies (2-10 Hz) triggers the production of endorphins. Endorphins are natural chemicals that the body releases when it perceives pain and stress. They work by binding to opioid receptors to inhibit pain messages being sent to the brain. Additionally, TENS boosts blood circulation, which helps to reduce swelling and inflammation. As a result, it soothes sore muscles and releases muscle tension.

Benefits of the Unit

  • TENS provide non-invasive and drug-free pain relief.
  • A TENS machine is portable and easy to use.
  • TENS can be self-administered. It can be used at home and does not require professional supervision. In addition, users can apply the electrodes to their body without any assistance.
  • Using a TENS device is more cost-effective than other pain relief methods. It has a lesser cost than going to regular physical therapy sessions.
  • TENS has no known lasting side effects. Thus, it is safe for regular use, especially for chronic pain.
  • A TENS machine has adjustable settings to cater to individual needs.

An elederly woman having hand pain

TENS Machine for Chronic Pain – Conditions It Can Treat

A TENS machine for chronic pain helps treat different types of conditions. TENS is beneficial for neuropathic pain. This condition occurs when the nerves send persistent wrong signals to the brain. Examples of chronic nerve pain are sciatica, pinched nervescarpal tunnel syndrome, diabetic neuropathy, and multiple sclerosis.

Another benefit of TENS is reducing chronic joint pain. It includes disorders like osteoarthritisrheumatoid arthritisgout, and ankylosing spondylitis. These conditions involve swelling or inflammation of the joints that leads to numbness and limited mobility. Most often, these disorders do not have a definite cure, hence, requiring regular pain relief when they attack.

TENS is also used for musculoskeletal pain coming from muscle strain, sprain, or injuries that did not heal properly. It also includes conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic myofascial pain, and tension headaches. Aside from chronic pain conditions, TENS can help manage acute pain like period cramps, labour contractions, and postoperative pain. Overall, TENS can help alleviate the symptoms associated with degenerative disorders or strenuous activities.

How to Use the Machine

To use the device, begin by placing the electrodes on the pain area. Once in place, turn on the TENS unit and adjust the settings. Set the pulse rate and pulse width according to the type of pain or recommendations of a professional. Additionally, start at the lowest intensity and gradually increase the level.

Users may adjust the stimulation settings according to what works best for them. They may try various combinations until they find the most effective relief. Furthermore, some devices have pre-set modes for specific body areas or health conditions. Therefore, individuals can simply select the necessary mode from the menu.

A user pressing the power of a TENS machine on the wrist

General Guidelines When Using a TENS Machine for Chronic Pain

It is important to be mindful of the safety guidelines when using TENS machines for chronic pain. First and foremost, consult with a health professional before using the device. This is especially crucial for individuals with serious ailments like heart disease, epilepsy, cancer, and electric-implanted devices. Similarly, pregnant women should seek professional advice before using the device.

Secondly, follow the instructions of the manufacturer or pain specialist. Avoid exceeding the recommended intensity and treatment session. Individuals may set the strongest intensity that remains comfortable according to their tolerance. However, it should not cause painful muscle contractions. In addition, extreme levels may cause skin irritation and further nerve damage.

Moreover, follow the proper electrode placement. In general, position the TENS pads on either side of the pain or near the affected nerves. For widespread pain, using large sets of electrodes can be beneficial. In contrast, use small pads for confined areas like the hands, feet, and joints. Lastly, inspect the condition of the device before use. Ensure there are no open or loose wirings and that the electrodes stick firmly on the skin.

Areas to Avoid

There are certain areas to avoid when using a TENS machine. It is not advisable to place the electrodes near the eyes, head, throat, and chest. These areas are sensitive and may trigger abnormal heart rate, seizures, or dizziness. In addition, avoid pad placement over the spinal column and flexible joints.

Furthermore, do not place the TENS pads on broken skin, irritated skin, or open wounds. Another area to avoid is near a blood clot, as it may cause the clot to move. To avoid these risks, it is best to consult with a medical professional for advice.


Using a TENS machine for chronic pain is a drug-free method of pain relief. The common conditions it can treat are nerve, muscular, and joint pains. These are disorders that have recurring symptoms. The device works by sending electrical pulses through the skin to stimulate the nerves. The electrical stimulation causes the body to block pain signals and release endorphins. Moreover, the electrical device has adjustable settings for effective pain control.

Users may set the pulse rate, pulse width, mode, and intensity according to their type of pain, providing a safe and tailored treatment. To facilitate the therapy, place the electrodes on the pain area and adjust the settings. Pain specialists advise starting at the lowest intensity for safe use. Similarly, trying different frequency and intensity levels can prevent the development of tolerance. Finally, avoid sensitive areas to prevent any potential risks.

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