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Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Machine for Joint Pain: How Does It Work?

Man with pain in the knee

Joint pain is a common issue faced by many people, especially as they age or engage in strenuous activities. Doctors and physical therapists often recommend Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) for patients with a chronic condition. A TENS machine for joint pain sends low-voltage electrical current to the nerves in the affected area. This hinders pain signals from reaching the brain, resulting in the alleviation of symptoms. Regular TENS treatment can improve the quality of life.

There are many factors that cause or contribute to joint pain. One of the common causes is wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions the joints. This is prevalent among older adults. Another factor is overuse from playing sports or repetitive motions. Thus, TENS therapy can be beneficial to treat chronic and acute pain in the joints. This article will provide an overview of how TENS machines work and how to use them properly.

What is a TENS Machine for Joint Pain?

A TENS machine for joint pain is a portable device that sends electrical impulses through electrode pads placed on the skin. It is battery-operated and has adjustable settings that allow users to control the stimulation. Moreover, TENS devices come in several kinds and features. There are two main types, including wired and wireless TENS.

Standard or traditional TENS units have a control unit with wires connecting to the electrode pads. Meanwhile, individuals who prefer convenience and portability can opt for a wireless TENS machine. It is Bluetooth-capable that can connect to a remote receiver or smartphone. Thus, it is more compact and lightweight. This makes it suitable for treatment in flexible areas like the joints.

However, there are certain limitations. For instance, it is not advisable to use a TENS machine if the individual has a serious medical condition like heart disease or epilepsy. Likewise, it is important to note that while TENS provide pain relief, it does not address the underlying cause of the pain. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult with a medical professional for guidance and advice.

Types of Joint Pain

  • Osteoarthritis: caused by the wear and tear of cartilage in the joints.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation and pain.
  • Gout: a type of arthritis caused by the build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints. It often affects the big toe but also manifests in the ankle and knee.
  • Bursitis: inflammation of the bursae, which are small sacs filled with fluid that cushion and lubricate the joints.
  • Tendonitis: irritation or inflammation of the tendons that connect muscle to bone.
  • Sprains and strains: injury to the ligaments and capsules of a joint when it is overstretched.

iTENS small TENS machine and refill pads for joint areas

How a TENS Machine for Joint Pain Works to Alleviate the Condition

A TENS machine for joint pain works by stimulating the surrounding nerves through the flow of electric currents. It causes the sensory nerves to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This mechanism is known as pain gating. The electrical stimulation also distracts the brain, resulting in a lesser perception of pain.

The second way in which a TENS machine works is to induce the production of endorphins. These hormones act as natural painkillers because they help suppress pain. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors and inhibit the nerve cells from receiving pain messages. In addition, motor level stimulation has a longer therapeutic effect. People may experience pain relief for hours after using the device.

Another benefit of TENS therapy is increased circulation. The electrical stimulation boosts blood flow to the affected area, which helps reduce inflammation. As a result, it relaxes the muscles and minimises swelling of the joints. It is suitable for those who have inflammatory arthritis and injuries. This can further alleviate joint pain and improve the range of motion.

Benefits of Using the Unit

Using a TENS machine for pain management has many benefits. Firstly, it is a drug-free option for treatment. Since it does not involve medications, it minimises the risk of systemic side effects or health complications. Secondly, it is non-invasive and does not require any surgeries. This makes TENS a safe option.

Furthermore, a TENS machine is portable, making it more convenient to manage pain anywhere. People with arthritis or other conditions can use the device while working. This allows them to do their normal activities without affecting their productivity level. Lastly, it is reusable, making it cost-effective for long-term use.

A person wearing a small tens machine near the elbow

How to Operate a TENS Machine for Joint Pain

Operating a TENS machine for joint pain requires following a few simple steps. It is essential to prepare the site of electrode placement by washing the skin and removing any lotions or oils. Subsequently, ensure the skin is completely dry before putting the electrodes to ensure optimal adhesion.

Place the TENS pads on the affected area and turn on the unit. Adjust the pulse rates and pulse width according to the type of pain. Additionally, set the intensity to the lowest level and gradually increase it to the most comfortable level. The intensity should not cross the pressure pain thresholds that may cause further discomfort instead of relief.

Alternatively, some devices have pre-set modes for specific conditions. Users can choose a program with automatic settings. For example, many TENS machines include treatments for osteoarthritis pain, neuropathic pain, musculoskeletal pain, chronic knee pain, and foot pain. Lastly, the treatment should last for 20-30 minutes, and people can repeat sessions for up to three times a day. Be sure to turn off the unit after each session.

Pad Placement

For knee and elbow joints, the pad placement is above and below the affected joints. For shoulder pain, individuals may place two to four electrodes surrounding the shoulder joints. Avoid electrode placements that are directly against the joints or other body protrusions to prevent discomfort or irritation.

The placement of TENS pads may vary. Users may alter the positioning to stimulate the nerves more effectively. Moreover, individuals may refer to the provided pad placement chart or consult a healthcare provider. Another vital aspect to remember is to avoid areas with open wounds, rashes, and skin irritations.


TENS therapy can be a cost-effective way to manage acute and chronic pain conditions. A common use is a TENS machine for joint pain. The device sends small electrical pulses to the body to stimulate the nerves. This causes the body to block pain signals and release endorphins. Therefore, it helps reduce pain symptoms without the need for drugs or surgeries. It is suitable for people who want to avoid the potential side effects of medicines.

An advantage of TENS machines is it allows individuals to control their pain relief. Users can adjust the settings or select from pre-set modes. People can use the device for up to three times a day for 20-30 minutes each session. Furthermore, the correct positioning of the electrodes is necessary to ensure optimal relief and comfort. For best results, consulting with a health professional can help individuals determine the most appropriate settings and pad placement locations.

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