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

TENS Unit for Elbow Pain: Where to Place the Electrodes for Safe Use?

A small wing iTENS electrode and information about it

Elbow pain can be debilitating, affecting daily activities and limiting the range of motion. To help with this, many use Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). A TENS unit for elbow pain provides non-invasive and drug-free relief. To use one, the user must place the electrodes above and below the elbow joint. They may also place electrodes on the arm. Then, they may turn the TENS machine on and adjust the settings.

Many turn to pain medicine to treat the various causes of elbow pain. However, these can have many adverse side effects. Fortunately, TENS therapy is also available as a method of pain management. It helps with various acute and chronic pain disorders. It is also easy to self-administer. Nevertheless, users must consult a healthcare professional before using one. This article will present how TENS works, the proper pad placement for elbow pain, and the safety precautions.

How a TENS Unit for Elbow Pain Works

Elbow pain is a common condition caused by strained or inflamed muscles from repetitive motions. One example of a sports injury related to the joint is the tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. Another injury is medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow. Moreover, various conditions also result in elbow joint pain. This includes olecranon bursitis and osteoarthritis. Fortunately, people may use a TENS unit for elbow pain to alleviate aches from these ailments.

A TENS machine delivers low-voltage electrical currents to the body using electrode pads. These affect the sensory nerves and induce the body to produce temporary pain relief. It mainly uses two mechanisms. This is the pain gating mechanism and endorphin production. Using adjustable settings, users may utilise these two processes for pain-relieving effects.

Many value TENS therapy because it is a non-invasive and drug-free pain management method. It works on various acute and chronic pain disorders. It can also help increase mobility by reducing inflammation and relaxing sore muscles. Furthermore, it can help increase blood flow, which helps in healing this painful condition.

The Theories At Work

Generally, the precise mechanisms that explain how TENS works remain inconclusive. However, these are theories that explain how TENS therapy provides effective treatment:

  • Gate Control Theory of Pain: suggests that high-frequency electrical stimulation (50-120 Hz) can induce the spinal nerve cells to block pain signals from reaching the brain. This results in immediate relief for many people.
  • Endogenous opioids release: this proposes that low-frequency stimulation (2-10 Hz) induces the motor and sensory nerves to release natural painkilling hormones. These are called endorphins. Then, they build up to reduce the overall intensity of pain in patients.

A man wearing an iTENS electrode on his arm

Safe Pad Placement When Using a TENS Unit for Elbow Pain

Proper pad placement is crucial when using a TENS unit for elbow pain. This is why many people refer to placement charts and guides to ensure correct application. Generally, users must place pads on muscles on or near the pain source. This enables targeted relief and increases the effectiveness of the session.

For elbow pain, the ideal placements are above and below the elbow joint. They may also place the electrode patches on the arm. However, it is vital to remember to place the pads at least one inch apart to prevent interference. Moreover, focusing on one area per session is ideal to maximise the effects of TENS therapy.

To increase adhesion, users should clean the area with soap and water to remove body oil, lotion, and dirt. Then, they can apply the adhesives on dry skin. Another important safety precaution is to avoid areas with skin irritation and infections. This is because the stimulation may cause the condition to worsen.

How to Operate the Machine

Operating a TENS machine is a straightforward process. Start by applying the electrode patches near or on the pain source. Then, make sure the electrodes are properly linked to the controller. Once they are secure, the user may turn on the machine. It is best to start on low settings to prevent sudden shock or discomfort.

Afterwards, the user may gradually increase the settings or select a preset mode. Usually, TENS therapy sessions last between 20 to 30 minutes. However, it can vary depending on the settings used. Once the time elapses, they can turn it off and remove the pads.

An elderly woman wearing an iTENS electrode on her arm while reading

Precautions When Using a TENS Unit for Elbow Pain

Users must take some safety precautions when using a TENS unit for elbow pain. The foremost safety measure is to consult a medical professional before using an electrotherapy device. They may diagnose the cause of the ache and assess whether the overall health condition would suit TENS therapy.

Some health conditions negatively react to electrical stimulation. Some examples are epilepsy, seizures, cancer, and heart disease. Those with electrical and metal implants, like pacemakers and defibrillators, should also avoid electrotherapy. This is because the electrical impulses from TENS may cause the device to malfunction.

Moreover, users must stay alert when using TENS. They must avoid sleeping or engaging in safety-sensitive activities that require concentration. This includes driving and operating heavy machinery. They must also evade contact with water as this may cause damage to the machine and harm to the user. Lastly, users must follow the prescribed time and refrain from overusing the machine. Overuse can result in skin irritation, muscle spasms, and muscle and nerve damage.

When to Seek Professional Help?

Knowing when to seek professional help is essential when using any electrotherapy device. It is vital to remember that TENS should not cause worsening pain during and after the session. If the user experiences this, they must turn the device off and seek medical attention. This is a sign of an underlying condition that reacts negatively to electric stimulation.

Moreover, some experience muscle twitching and tingling sensations when using high frequencies. This is a common occurrence that usually fades after some time. However, if this becomes excessive and persistent, consult a doctor to treat this condition.


Using a TENS unit for elbow pain is an effective method of pain relief. It works by inducing the body to alleviate pain using the pain gate mechanism and endogenous opioid release. It also eases pain by increasing blood circulation and reducing inflammation. Users must apply the electrode patches above and below the elbow joint to address elbow pain. This enables the delivery of electrical pulses to the necessary sensory nerves for effective pain relief.

TENS therapy is effective for various conditions that cause musculoskeletal pain. It helps treat tennis elbowarthritis, and other conditions that cause elbow pain. However, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before using TENS. This helps ensure safety and allows the professional to diagnose and assess the condition. Moreover, they can advise the patient on how to use the medical device. Those interested in a wireless TENS unit may consider the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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