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

TENS Unit for Arthritis in Hands: What It Is and How to Use 

An elderly woman clutching her right hand

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS unit for arthritis in hands is a device that can provide pain relief. It works by sending electrical impulses through electrodes. To use it, the person cleans the treatment area for better electrode adhesion. Then, they apply pads to their hands and adjust the settings for the desired intensity and frequency of electrical impulses. This simple process effectively alleviates pain and discomfort caused by hand arthritis.

Some individuals find relief through pain medications, hot and cold therapy, and physical therapy. Many people choose analgesics as their primary treatment due to their accessibility and affordability. However, medications come with potential side effects. Fortunately, a TENS unit is a drug-free and non-invasive alternative for managing arthritis pain in the hands. This article will present what a TENS device is, including its proper usage and safety precautions.

What is a TENS Unit for Arthritis in Hands?

Arthritis in the hands is a condition where the joints become inflamed, causing pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility. It can be caused by ageing, overuse of the hands, or underlying medical conditions. Symptoms include swelling, warmth, redness in the affected joints, and difficulty using the hands for daily activities.

A TENS unit for arthritis in hands is a small, battery-operated device that uses electrical currents to stimulate the nerves. This stimulation can help to reduce ongoing pain and improve mobility in the affected hands. The TENS unit typically has a frequency range of 1-150 Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mA. This makes it a versatile electrical device for treating various acute or chronic pain conditions.

There are two types of TENS machines: wired and wireless. Wired units use lead cables to connect the controller and power source to the electrodes. Meanwhile, wireless units, such as iTENS, utilise Bluetooth technology to control the electrodes. Many people use these devices at home because they are portable and easy to use at any time.

How Does It Work?

  • TENS works by overriding the nerves in the spinal cord that act as pain gate controllers. The electrical stimulation from TENS closes the “neural gates”, blocking the pain signals to the brain.
  • It can also stimulate the production of endorphins. Endorphins are natural painkillers that the body releases when it perceives pain. They bind to opioid receptors and inhibit the pain messages from reaching the brain.
  • Moreover, TENS can help boost blood circulation. The constant stream of electrical pulses stimulates the motor nerves and muscles. This increases blood flow and oxygen in the area, which can help reduce muscle inflammation and cramping sensations.

A person applying iTENS on the wrist of an elderly woman

How to Use a TENS Unit for Arthritis in Hands

People can use a TENS unit for arthritis in hands in a few simple steps. To begin, they should clean and dry the area of the skin where they will apply the electrodes. It is crucial to ensure that the skin is free from any lotions, oils, or creams. Otherwise, these substances may interfere with the effectiveness of the treatment.

After the skin preparation, the person should carefully place the electrode pads on the treatment area. Additionally, they need to make sure to space the pads evenly for the best pain relief. Moreover, they can adjust the settings based on their comfort level.

Physical therapists recommend starting with a low setting and increasing gradually if needed. Once the session is over, individuals have to remove the electrodes slowly, peeling them off the skin gently. Furthermore, it is best to clean the pads after each use and store them properly. By following these steps, people can effectively manage the arthritis pain in their hands with the help of a TENS unit.

Proper Pad Placement

For arthritis in the hands, the proper TENS electrode placement is on the affected area. The electrodes should be placed on the top and bottom of the hand, near the fingers. Make sure the electrodes are on the areas where the pain is most intense. Also, it is important to place the electrodes on clean, dry skin to ensure good contact.

Additionally, the TENS electrode patches can be on the wrist and forearm. This placement helps stimulate the nerves and muscles that contribute to pain and discomfort in the hands. It is advisable to use hypoallergenic pads to reduce the risk of skin irritation.

Hand peeling off the plastic from the iTENS electrode

Safety Precautions When Using a TENS Unit for Arthritis in Hands

A TENS unit for arthritis in hands is generally safe for personal use. However, it is necessary to follow certain safety measures to prevent unwanted risks. Firstly, people with serious medical conditions should consult a healthcare professional. Electrical nerve stimulation may not be suitable for people with heart problems, epilepsypacemakers, and pregnant women.

Secondly, follow the recommended settings and treatment duration. Do not increase the intensity more than the allowed limit. Also, do not use the machine for more than an hour. Doing so may cause dizziness, skin irritation, and muscle fatigue. Thirdly, avoid placing the pads on sensitive areas, such as the chest, head, and front and sides of the neck.

Fourthly, inspect the electrodes or wirings for any damage before and after each use. Do not use a device with open or exposed wires or if the pads do not stick properly. Furthermore, as with any medical device, keep the machine away from water. Finally, avoid use while sleeping or driving.

When to Seek Medical Help

If someone is experiencing persistent or worsening pain in their hands that is not getting better with pain medications, home remedies, or TENS therapy, they should seek medical help. This could be a sign of a more serious issue that needs medical attention.

Additionally, see a doctor if there are any signs of infection, like redness, swelling, or pus around the affected joints. Infections can spread and cause more severe problems if not treated promptly. These are general guidelines, and individual circumstances may vary. Therefore, people with arthritis in their hands should consult a medical professional for more personalised advice when experiencing unusual symptoms.


In conclusion, a TENS unit for arthritis in hands offers relief by using electrical pulses to block pain signals from reaching the brain. It can also trigger the release of endorphins and enhance blood circulation to reduce inflammation. To use it, one should clean the skin, place the electrodes evenly, and adjust settings for comfort. It is advisable to start at a low intensity and gradually increase to prevent overstimulation.

TENS therapy is generally safe, but precautions are crucial. Always consult a healthcare professional, especially with heart issues, epilepsy, or pregnancy. Follow recommended settings and duration to avoid side effects. Regularly check for damage, keep the device dry, and never use it while sleeping or driving. If pain persists or worsens, or signs of infection appear, seeking medical help is essential. Individuals in search of a wireless TENS unit may consider checking out iTENS.

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