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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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TENS Machine for Pain: What It Is, How It Works, and How to Use

A small wing TENS with two packs of refill gel pads from iTENS Australia

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS machine for pain is an electronic device that delivers electrical impulses to the body. Accordingly, this electrical stimulation works in different mechanisms to provide a method of pain relief. This functions based on the pain gate mechanism, prompting the release of endorphins, and improving blood flow. TENS devices are easy to use. One needs to identify the treatment area, place the adhesive electrodes, adjust the settings, and activate the stimulation.

Living with acute pain or chronic pain can be debilitating, affecting the quality of life. Numerous options for pain management are available, but many of them involve medication that can come with unwanted side effects. This is where a TENS unit can be a game-changer. Nevertheless, it has gained popularity and recognition as a safe and non-invasive form of pain relief. This article will present TENS devices for pain, including how they work and how to use them.

What is a TENS Machine for Pain?

TENS machine for pain is a small, battery-operated device that sends electrical pulses to the body via electrode pads placed on the skin. It is commonly utilised by health professionals, pain clinics, and physical therapists. Accordingly, technological advancement led to the development of TENS for home use. This enables individuals to incorporate TENS as part of their self-care routine.

There are two main types of TENS devices: wired and wireless. Wired TENS units require the use of lead cables to connect the electrode patches to the central unit. On the other hand, wireless TENS offer the convenience of mobility. This allows users to move around freely while receiving pain-relieving stimulation. Individuals can control the therapy manually or through a smartphone via Bluetooth.

Furthermore, both types come with various features. This includes adjustable settings, enabling users to modify the pulse rate, pulse amplitudes, and pulse duration. Hence, it extends a personalised treatment solution. Also, some TENS offer pre-set programs. This allows for a more direct and convenient relief solution for a specific type of pain.

Conditions It Can Treat

The following are the types of pain that TENS therapy can treat:

  • Chronic pain conditions: it is an ongoing pain. This type often stems from conditions such as neck pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and backaches.
  • Acute pain conditions: this may involve period pain, post-operative pain, primary dysmenorrhea, and headaches.
  • Neuropathic pain: it results from nerve damage or malfunction. Conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, or trigeminal neuralgia can benefit from TENS.
  • Musculoskeletal pain: this affects the muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. It commonly arises from conditions like osteoarthritis pain, sprains, and strains.
  • Muscular pain: it can occur from overexertion, tension, or repetitive motion.

A woman using TENS on her arm and thigh

How a TENS Machine for Pain Works

The TENS machine for pain operates by delivering low-voltage electrical pulses to the body through adhesive electrode pads placed on the skin. When the TENS unit is in use, it can activate several mechanisms. One of the primary ways in which TENS works is by promoting the release of endorphins. These are the natural chemicals of the body that act as natural pain relievers. Hence, it creates a sense of well-being.

Another mechanism is through the Pain Gate Theory. According to this theory, the electrical stimulation from TENS competes with and alters the pain signals travelling along nerve fibres. As a result, it effectively closes the gate in the spinal cord through which pain messages pass to the brain. This modulation can result in reduced pain intensity.

Moreover, the TENS device can influence blood flow in the treatment area. The electrical currents can lead to the dilation of blood vessels and an increase in local circulation. This heightened blood flow can help deliver oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues. Accordingly, this supports reducing inflammation and the healing process. By leveraging these processes, TENS can effectively provide relief.

Frequency and Intensity

The operation of TENS hinges on its ability to control the frequency and intensity of electrical impulses it delivers to the body. Accordingly, the frequency of TENS refers to the number of electrical pulses it streams per second, measured in Hz. When the TENS is set to a higher frequency (above 50 Hz), it targets the sensory nerves. Meanwhile, low-frequency TENS (below 10 Hz) may activate motor nerves.

Moreover, the intensity of a TENS relates to the strength or power of the electrical pulses it emits. It is typically measured in Milliamps (mA). Nevertheless, this determines the strength of the sensation experienced by the user.

A guide on how to operate the iTENS application

How to Use a TENS Machine for Pain

Using a TENS machine for pain involves several essential steps to ensure its safe and effective application. Firstly, connect the electrodes to the central unit using lead cables or to a smartphone via Bluetooth for wireless. Secondly, identify the treatment area and prepare it before applying the electrodes. Then, position electrodes following the proper pad placement guide.

Once the electrodes are in place, the user should turn on the TENS unit. Depending on the model, there may be different settings to adjust, including frequency, intensity, and duration. Also, some may extend pre-set programs, thus, select the appropriate for the specific condition. The user should start with the lowest settings and gradually increase it to a comfortable intensity.

Accordingly, the duration of TENS therapy depends on the individual and the specific condition being treated. Typically, a TENS session may last between 15 to 30 minutes. Throughout the session, the user should monitor their sensations and adjust the settings as necessary. After the treatment session, turn off the device and carefully remove the electrodes from the skin.

Pad Placement

Before placing the electrode pads, the user should identify the specific area of discomfort. Then, it is important to ensure that the skin is clean, dry, and free from any lotions, oils, or residues. Accordingly, TENS come with different types and sizes of electrode pads. Larger pads are suitable for broader areas, while smaller pads are ideal for more specific areas.

Furthermore, it is essential to place the pads strategically. Nevertheless, it is crucial to ensure that the pads are evenly placed a few inches apart from each other. Avoid placing the electrodes on sensitive areas like the eyes, head, throat, chest, and broken skin.


In conclusion, a TENS machine for pain is an effective tool for managing discomfort. It is available in wired and wireless functionalities, offering numerous features. This compact device uses electrical currents to stimulate the nerves. Accordingly, it works in different mechanisms to provide relief. It blocks pain signals from reaching the brain, triggers the release of endorphins, and enhances blood flow. Also, its operation hinges on its ability to control the delivery of electrical pulses through frequency and intensity.

Nevertheless, TENS can treat a wide range of conditions. This may include arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches, sciatica, trigeminal neuralgia, sprains, and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, TENS is popular because it is easy to use. One needs to identify the treatment area, position the electrodes, adjust the settings or, select a pre-set program, and activate the stimulation. However, knowing the proper pad placement is crucial in the therapy. Those who want to purchase TENS may check the online retailer iTENS Australia.

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