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Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Machine for Osteoarthritis: Does It Work?

A person holding their pained hand

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease that causes joint pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. While there is no cure, various options are available to alleviate the aches. One of them is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). It is an effective pain management for many conditions, including osteoarthritis and other arthritic conditions. Using a TENS machine for osteoarthritis is a non-invasive, effective, and drug-free treatment that can improve the quality of life of people.

A TENS machine is typically a small-battery-operated device that delivers low-voltage electric currents to the body. This triggers the body to block the transmission of pain messages and release endorphins for natural relief. Using it does not require medical supervision, but it is recommended to consult a healthcare professional before use. This article will present how a TENS machine works, how to use it, and some side effects of TENS.

How Does a TENS Machine for Osteoarthritis Work?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is a degenerative condition that occurs when the cartilage wears away and causes the bones to rub together. It affects millions worldwide and causes symptoms such as joint stiffness, pain, and inflammation. To help with the pain, many people use a TENS machine for osteoarthritis. This medical device delivers electrical currents to the body using electrode pads for effective pain relief.

A TENS machine alleviates pain by triggering mechanisms for pain relief using electrical stimulation. High-frequency stimulation (50-120 Hz) triggers spinal nerve cells to block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. This is ideal for acute pain conditions because it works quickly. Furthermore, it has a massage-like effect that relaxes sore muscles and increases blood flow to the target area.

Meanwhile, low-frequency stimulation (2-10 Hz) triggers the production of endorphins. These hormones are natural painkillers that build up and cause an overall reduction in pain. This effect lasts for hours, making it ideal for chronic pain conditions. Endorphins also help reduce inflammation and stress, which can increase the quality of life.

Benefits and Advantages

  • Non-invasive: TENS therapy does not require invasive procedures like incisions and injections. This removes the risks of infections or other complications.
  • Drug-free: people do not need to consume medicine for TENS to take effect. This is helpful for those seeking to lessen or replace their intake of pain medications.
  • Complementary to other treatments: many use TENS as a natural pain reliever with other physical therapy treatments.
  • Portable: several TENS machines have lightweight and compact designs for convenient use in various locations.
  • Self-administered: people can safely use TENS therapy alone, without medical supervision.
  • Versatile: TENS provides safe treatment for acute and chronic conditions.

An elderly woman adjusting the settings on the iTENS electrode on her wrist

How to Use a TENS Machine for Osteoarthritis

Using a TENS machine for osteoarthritis is a straightforward process. Before starting, the user should check if the device and accessories are in good condition. They should also clean the skin with soap and water to remove body oil, lotions, and dirt. They may also read the instruction manual to increase their understanding of how to use their unit for arthritis pain.

To start, the user must place the electrodes on muscle areas near or on the painful joints. Then, they can turn the machine on and adjust the settings. It is best to start on low levels to avoid discomfort and electrical shocks. Afterwards, they may gradually increase the settings or select a preset mode. They may also set a timer to signal when to finish the session.

TENS therapy sessions usually last between 20 to 30 minutes. This may vary depending on the settings used and medical conditions. Once the time elapses, they may turn the machine off and remove the electrodes.

Different Modes and Settings to Try

Many TENS machines offer adjustable settings for effective treatment. Users may adjust the intensity, frequency, and pulse-width settings. This enables them to customise their treatment depending on the type or level of pain they are experiencing.

On the other hand, preset modes are available. They are programs tailored for specific body parts and conditions. They add to the convenience of using TENS by reducing the experimentation needed for on-demand pain relief. Some examples of modes available are burst and continuous. Burst mode delivers intermittent bursts of electrical pulses to the body. Meanwhile, the continuous mode provides a steady flow of stimulation.

An elderly man frowning while holding his pained hand

Common Side Effects of Using a TENS Machine for Osteoarthritis

Using a TENS machine for osteoarthritis is safe for most people. Nevertheless, like all medical procedures, some people may experience side effects. It is crucial to be aware of these to ensure safety. Firstly, some may experience allergic reactions from the materials in the adhesives or the pad itself. Hence, first-time users should check for negative skin reactions after applying the pad. They may also use hypoallergenic TENS pads to prevent this from occurring.

Secondly, muscle spasms or twitching may happen. This commonly occurs while using high frequencies. They are usually temporary and not harmful, but they may cause discomfort. To prevent this, users must carefully monitor the intensity settings used and the duration of the session. Those feeling excessive twitching should turn the device off and observe if the condition fades.

Lastly, there is a possibility of skin irritation. Many experience this after overusing the machine. Overstimulation can cause mild and temporary irritation. In more severe cases, it may even cause muscle and nerve damage. Hence, users must follow safety guidelines to ensure proper use of TENS machines.

Safety Guidelines to Follow

Individuals should consult medical professionals for advice before using TENS machines. They may assess the health condition and determine if TENS suits the person. People with electrical implants, cancer, or heart disease may need to refrain from using electrotherapy. Moreover, health professionals may guide the user on where to apply the electrodes and what settings to use.

Users must also stay aware during their session. This will allow them to monitor their condition and quickly react if they feel adverse effects. They should avoid sleeping or engaging in activities that require concentration. Lastly, they should avoid contact with water during treatment.


A TENS machine for osteoarthritis is a helpful tool for alleviating arthritic pain. It works by triggering the spinal nerves to block pain signals and inducing endorphin release. Using these two mechanisms allows the user access to drug-free relief, which is why TENS is gaining in popularity. Moreover, it is easy to self-administer. To start, the user must place the electrode pads near or on the origin of the pain. Then, they may adjust the settings for relief.

TENS therapy is an effective treatment many use in hospitals and pain clinics. However, some side effects can occur. This includes allergic reactions, skin irritation, and muscle spasms. This is why it is crucial to follow safety guidelines before using it. One of these is to consult a healthcare professional to get an assessment. Those interested in using TENS should also invest in an FDA-cleared device. One option is the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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