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

TENS Machine For Knee Osteoarthritis: How Can It Help Relieve Pain?

An elderly man holding his knee

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS machine for knee osteoarthritis is a small, battery-operated device that uses electrical pulses to stimulate the nerves. It works by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. Additionally, TENS machines can stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers that the body produces. By utilising these mechanisms, TENS devices can provide relief from knee osteoarthritis pain without the need for medication or invasive procedures.

People with knee osteoarthritis often rely on a combination of medications, physical exercise, and TENS therapy for the management of pain. While many opt for oral analgesics, the potential for adverse side effects in prolonged use raises concerns. For those seeking a natural and non-toxic alternative, TENS therapy emerges as a popular choice. This article will provide information on the functionality, usage, and safety guidelines of TENS devices for knee osteoarthritis.

How a TENS Machine for Knee Osteoarthritis Works for Pain Relief

Knee osteoarthritis is a medical condition that occurs when the protective cartilage in the knee joint wears down over time. This can result in pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. Osteoarthritis usually affects individuals as they age or those with previous knee injuries. It is caused by a combination of factors including genetics, obesity, and excessive joint stress.

A TENS machine for knee osteoarthritis works by utilising the Pain Gate Control Theory. This theory suggests that the electrical currents from the TENS device disrupt the pain signals that are sent to the brain. The device achieves this by using high-frequency TENS, typically ranging from 50 to 150 Hz. This mechanism is particularly effective for intense or acute pain.

Additionally, TENS can stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers in the body. The TENS device accomplishes this by using low-frequency TENS, usually ranging from 2 to 5 Hz. This aspect of TENS therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals dealing with chronic pain, providing them with a more sustainable solution.

Benefits of Using the Device

  • Relieves pain: the machine can relieve different kinds of knee joint pains, including chronic knee pain, acute knee pain, osteoarthritic knee pain, and others.
  • Non-invasive: TENS operates externally without the need for surgery or penetration of the skin.
  • Drug-free: the TENS device uses electrical stimulation, avoiding the side effects linked to medications.
  • Portable: TENS devices are compact and portable, allowing people with knee osteoarthritis to conveniently use them at home or on the go.
  • Easy to use: TENS units are user-friendly, featuring simple controls and clear instructions.
  • Cost-effective: using a TENS device is a more cost-effective solution compared to medication or frequent doctor visits.

A woman using multiple iTENS on her leg, extending down to her foot

How to Use a TENS Machine for Knee Osteoarthritis

To properly use a TENS machine for knee osteoarthritis, the individual should first make sure to clean and dry the skin around the affected area. It is essential to have a clean surface for the electrodes to adhere to for effective treatment. After the skin preparation, the person should carefully place the pads on the knee.

The electrodes should be on either side of the knee joint, ensuring they are securely attached. After placing the pads, the next step is to adjust the settings on the TENS machine. The person should start by selecting a low-intensity level and gradually increase it until they feel a comfortable level of stimulation. It is important to avoid setting the machine too high, as it may cause discomfort or pain.

Additionally, the user can choose the appropriate mode of stimulation based on their needs. They may choose between continuous stimulation for long-term relief or burst mode for short bursts of pain relief. Overall, people can effectively manage their knee pain and improve their overall quality of life by following these steps.

Pad Placement Guide and Instructions

It is essential to properly place the pads to ensure effective pain relief. The first pad should be on the inside of the knee joint, just below the kneecap. This area is the medial aspect of the knee. The individual should position the pad so that it covers the area where they feel the most pain or discomfort.

The second pad should be on the outside of the knee joint, known as the lateral aspect of the knee. It is important to ensure that both pads are securely attached to the skin, without any creases or wrinkles. This ensures maximum contact and conductivity.

A hand peeling off the plastic from TENS electrode

Safety Considerations When Using a TENS Machine for Knee Osteoarthritis

When using a TENS machine for knee osteoarthritis, it is important to prioritise safety. The first step is to consult with a medical professional to determine if TENS therapy is suitable for the specific condition. They can guide the appropriate settings to use for optimal results. Additionally, people should avoid placing the TENS pads on open wounds or broken skin to prevent any potential complications.

Moreover, users must refrain from applying the pads on sensitive areas like the head, eyes, throat, and spine. Electrical stimulation in these areas can worsen the condition. If any discomfort arises during the stimulation, it is important to check the settings and readjust accordingly.

To prevent overstimulation, people must not use the TENS machine for more than one hour at a time. Prolonged use may result in headaches, muscle fatigue, and skin irritation. For continuous treatment, healthcare professionals recommend a 20-minute break between sessions. Following these safety guidelines will help ensure a safe and effective experience with TENS, optimising the overall treatment outcome.

When to Seek Medical Help

Individuals should seek medical help in certain instances. Firstly, it is when they experience a skin reaction like redness or itching. This is because these symptoms may indicate an allergic reaction or sensitivity to the electrodes or gel pads. Seeking medical attention will help determine the cause of the skin reaction and provide appropriate treatment.

Furthermore, consult a doctor if severe pain continues despite the use of TENS. While TENS machines can help alleviate pain for many patients with knee osteoarthritis, persistent severe pain may signal a more serious underlying issue. A physical therapist can assess the situation, and conduct further tests if needed.


The TENS machine for knee osteoarthritis works effectively through the pain gate mechanism, disrupting pain signals with high-frequency electrical currents. It can also trigger endorphin release with low-frequency stimulation. To use the machine, one must prepare the skin, place electrodes on either side of the knee, and adjust settings gradually for comfort. By adhering to these steps, people can alleviate knee pain and participate in daily activities with greater comfort.

More importantly, users must prioritise safety when using a TENS machine. They should first consult with a medical professional for guidance. Additionally, people must avoid placing pads on sensitive areas and promptly address any discomfort during stimulation. To prevent overstimulation, they must adhere to time limits and take breaks in between sessions. Furthermore, it is advisable to seek medical help for skin reactions or persistent severe pain. By following these precautions, individuals can ensure a safe and effective TENS experience.

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