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

TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator: What It Is, How It Works, & Pad Placement

A shirtless man touching his lower back

TENS, or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, has become valuable in pain management and rehabilitation. This compact device uses low-voltage electrical currents to relieve various types of pain. It works by stimulating the nerves and muscles to block pain signals and release endorphins. To use the TENS unit muscle stimulator, first, place the pads on either side of the painful area or on the target muscles. Then, turn on the unit and adjust the settings.

Nowadays, many people look for alternatives to manage pain without the use of medications. A TENS therapy machine can provide drug-free and non-invasive pain relief without the risk of adverse side effects. In addition, it is easy to use, allowing individuals to control their treatment. The portable device can be used at home or on the go. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into what TENS units are, how they work, and a pad placement guide for optimal results.

What is a TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator?

A TENS unit muscle stimulator is a small battery-operated device that can provide pain relief and muscle relaxation. It consists of a controller and adhesive electrode pads. The controller generates electrical currents, while the electrodes are placed where the pain or muscle tension is experienced. The pads deliver mild electrical pulses through the skin to the targeted area.

Additionally, the device has adjustable frequency, pulse duration, and intensity to adapt to different pain levels. Thus, changing the settings can alter the patterns of electrical stimulation. Some devices have programs for easier use, including boost, modulation, and continuous pulse patterns. These modes can provide different therapeutic effects.

Furthermore, TENS machines primarily target the nerve fibres to alleviate pain symptoms. The electrical stimulation produces tingling sensations that are gentle to the body. However, it can also stimulate the muscles by using stronger electric currents. This can help reach deeper layers of muscles and reinnervate them. The purpose of this is to strengthen weakened muscles and improve their functioning. It is a versatile device that offers numerous benefits for pain management and rehabilitation.

Benefits of Using a TENS Machine

  • Non-invasive and drug-free: Provides pain relief for acute and chronic pain without requiring medications or invasive procedures. It offers an alternative to oral painkillers.
  • Minimal side effects: TENS machines do not pose significant risks or complications. It is safe to use for long-term pain management.
  • Portable and convenient: The device is lightweight and easy to use anywhere.
  • Target specific areas: Allows targeting particular muscles or pain areas for localised treatment.
  • Boost circulation: Improves blood flow to the affected area, reducing inflammation and promoting healing.
  • Cost-effective: Provides long-term pain relief at a fraction of the cost of repeated medication or therapy sessions.

iTENS wireless TENS machine large pads, spare long wings, and refill gel pads

How a TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator Works

A TENS unit muscle stimulator works by sending mild electrical currents through electrodes on the skin. The currents target specific nerves and muscle groups through pad placements. Subsequently, the electrical impulses override the nerve fibres, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. The result is fewer sensations of pain. It also helps to release endorphins, which have natural analgesic mechanisms.

The electric currents can stimulate the muscles, causing them to contract and relax. This action helps increase blood flow to the sore area, relieving muscle tension and accelerating recovery. Moreover, it helps to improve muscle strength and endurance and increase the range of motion. The electrical stimulation should be solid but pleasant.

The TENS unit allows for customisation of the settings for a comfortable experience. Hence, it gives users a sense of control over their pain relief and specific pain management needs.  Furthermore, it can help address various conditions, such as musculoskeletal pain, neuropathic pain, and postoperative pain. Overall, the mechanism of action involves blocking pain signals, releasing natural painkillers, and promoting muscle relaxation and healing.

Low and High Frequencies

Low-frequency TENS operates at pulse rates of 10 Hertz (Hz) and below. It produces a mild and comfortable sensation. This type of stimulation targets endorphin production. It is ideal for chronic pain conditions as it can provide lasting relief. This level also helps to reduce muscle spasms and improve circulation.

On the other hand, high-frequency TENS operates at pulse rates above 50 Hz and above. It produces a stronger and more noticeable pulse sensation. This type of stimulation targets the nerve fibres directly, aiming to close the pain gate mechanisms of the body. It is beneficial for muscle strains and labour pain.

A woman using a wireless TENS machine on her right shoulder and wrist

Pad Placement When Using a TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator

Proper pad positioning is crucial to using a TENS unit muscle stimulator effectively. The electrode placement depends on the location and nature of the pain. Generally, it should be placed on or around the area experiencing discomfort. It is essential to follow the instructions of the device or healthcare provider to ensure effective treatment.

For nerve pain, place the pads near or along the nerve pathways. For muscle pain, place the pads directly on or around the muscle groups experiencing tension or soreness. On the other hand, for joint pain, position the pads around the affected joint. Do not put it directly on the joint or bony prominences.

The pads must cover the treatment area. For treating lower back pain, place one or two pads on each side of the spine. They must be at least one inch apart to ensure the electrical currents spread evenly. Furthermore, always remember to avoid sensitive areas, such as near the eyes, throat, and chest. Make sure to avoid placing the pads over broken skin, wounds, or areas with decreased sensation.

How to Operate the Device

Operating a TENS unit involves several straightforward steps. Firstly, place the electrode pads on the clean, dry skin of the treatment area. Ensure they are firmly in place and do not move around. Secondly, turn on the device and adjust the settings. Set the frequency and pulse duration to the desired level.

It is recommended to start at the lowest intensity to prevent overwhelming the body. Thirdly, gradually increase the intensity until finding a level that is strong but not overpowering. Next, set the desired treatment time, usually between 15 to 30 minutes. After the session, turn off the device and remove the pads.


Using a TENS unit muscle stimulator can provide effective relief for chronic pain, sore muscles, and acute injuries. The portable device sends small electrical impulses through electrodes on the skin. This targets the affected nerves or muscles and stimulates them to reduce pain, increase circulation, and reduce inflammation. These actions can provide a natural method of pain relief with zero to minimal side effects. Furthermore, it can be a drug-free alternative for those who want to reduce reliance on medications.

Proper operation and pad placement are crucial in maximising the effectiveness and benefits of the therapy. The general guide of the pads is on the side of the painful area, near the nerve pathways, or over the muscles. Start with a low intensity and gradually increase as the session progresses. For best results, consult with a healthcare professional before using a TENS unit. TENS machines are available in standard or wireless types, such as the iTENS.

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