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TENS Unit Treatment: Can It Help Alleviate Pain?

A small and large wing TENS with refill gel pads from iTENS Australia

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS unit treatment is an electronic device that delivers electrical currents to the body. Accordingly, this electrical stimulation works in different mechanisms to help alleviate various types of pain. Foremost, the electrical pulses can interfere with and reduce the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Also, the stimulation from the TENS unit can trigger the release of endorphins. Additionally, TENS therapy can help improve blood flow in the treatment area.

Living with any form of discomfort can drastically affect the quality of life. Whether it is acute painchronic pain, or daily stress. Hence, finding a form of pain relief becomes a top priority. Traditional pain management methods often involve medications, physical or heat therapy, or even surgery. However, alternative methods of pain relief, like TENS unit therapy, have gained popularity as an effective option. This article will present TENS devices, how they work, and how to operate them.

What is a TENS Unit Treatment?

The TENS unit treatment is a medical device that produces an electric current to help alleviate conditions. It consists of a small, portable device that delivers low-voltage electrical impulses to specific areas of the body. This is possible through the electrode pads placed on the skin. Accordingly, physical therapists, health professionals, pain clinics, and individuals often use TENS as part of their treatment plans.

TENS devices are available in both wired and wireless forms. Wired TENS typically include the main device and lead wires that connect to the electrode patches. Meanwhile, wireless TENS feature integrated electrodes and do not require separated lead wires. Hence, it offers greater mobility and convenience during use. People can control the unit manually or through a smartphone via Bluetooth.

Moreover, TENS units may include various features. This may incorporate adjustable settings, pre-set modes for different types of conditions, and timer functions. These features allow users to customise their TENS therapy depending on their basic needs and preferences. Additionally, the best TENS devices offer rechargeable batteries for continuous utilisation.

Benefits of Electrotherapy

  • Non-invasive and drug-free: TENS can alleviate discomfort without the potential side effects associated with medication or invasive surgeries.
  • Versatile: TENS therapy is beneficial in addressing various types of conditions, whether acute or chronic pain.
  • Complementary therapies: the treatment can be used alongside other interventions, such as physical therapy and exercise.
  • Convenience: it enables individuals to administer TENS on their own schedule and in the comfort of their own environment.
  • Customisable: it allows people to modify the treatment session. Individuals can control the frequency, intensity, and duration of electrical stimulation.
  • Cost-effective: TENS eliminates the ongoing cost of prescription medications or the frequent visits to healthcare providers.

An elderly woman using TENS on her wrist while sitting and reading

Mechanisms on How a TENS Unit Treatment Works

One fundamental mechanism of how a TENS unit treatment works is the pain gate mechanism. It suggests that the electrical stimulation from TENS can interfere with and block pain messages travelling to the brain. The electrical currents stimulate the nerve fibres, which travel along the nerve pathways. This can potentially interrupt or close the nerve gate that transmits pain messages to the brain.

Accordingly, TENS therapy is believed to encourage the release of endorphins. These are the natural chemicals of the body that act as painkillers. The electrical stimulation from TENS can trigger the production of endorphins. This then can bind to specific receptors in the brain and spinal cord. As a result, it reduces the perception of discomfort and produces a sense of well-being.

In addition to impacting the natural mechanisms of the body, TENS therapy can also affect blood flow in the treatment region. The electrical impulses may cause blood vessels to dilate. Improved blood circulation can help deliver oxygen and essential nutrients to body tissues. Therefore, it promotes healing and potentially reduces discomfort and inflammation.

Treatable Conditions

Firstly, TENS can help address acute conditions that occur suddenly. This may include labour pain, postoperative pain, menstrual cramps, and headaches. Secondly, TENS treatment can manage chronic conditions that persist over an extended period. This often stems from conditions like arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, and backaches.

Thirdly, TENS therapy can treat neuropathic pain. This may include diabetic neuropathy or sciatica. Fourthly, the treatment can help address musculoskeletal pain involving the muscles, bones, and joints. This may involve knee osteoarthritis pain and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, TENS can manage muscle discomfort due to overuse, tension, or other factors.

A guide to simply operate the iTENS application

How to Operate a TENS Unit Treatment

Operating a TENS unit treatment involves several simple steps. Start by attaching the electrodes to the central unit using lead cables. In the case of wireless TENS, connect it to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. After that, identify the treatment area and clean the skin to remove oils, lotions, or dirt. Then, position the pads following the proper electrode placement.

Once the electrodes are in place, the user can turn on the TENS device. This involves activating the power button or switch. TENS typically offer various settings that can be adjusted to customise the treatment. Therefore, modify the frequency, intensity, or duration of electrical stimulation. Some TENS models may offer pre-set programs. Hence, select a program that targets the specific condition.

Nevertheless, it is vital to start with the lowest settings and gradually increase them to a comfortable level. During the treatment, the user should closely monitor their comfort level and their response to electrical stimulation. Accordingly, the treatment session typically lasts from 15 to 30 minutes. Once the session is complete, turn off the device and remove the electrodes from the skin.

Safety Precautions

Before starting TENS treatment, individuals should consult with a healthcare professional. This is particularly important for individuals with underlying health issues, such as epilepsy or heart disease. In placing the electrodes, individuals should avoid positioning the pads on the eyes, head, throat, chest, mouth, bony regions, and broken skin.

Additionally, it is important to keep the TENS device and electrodes away from moisture. Moisture can compromise the integrity of the device and increase the risk of electrical shocks or skin irritation. Also, do not use TENS while driving or operating machinery. The electrical stimulation could pose a safety risk.


In conclusion, TENS unit treatment is a highly beneficial and effective method for alleviating discomfort. It is a device that is available in wired and wireless forms, offering various features. Accordingly, TENS works by delivering electrical currents to the body through electrodes placed on the skin. This electrical stimulation operates in different mechanisms to provide relief. It works based on the pain gate mechanism, triggering the release of endorphins and improving blood flow.

Furthermore, TENS offers numerous benefits. It is non-invasive, drug-free, versatile, convenient, customisable, cost-effective, and can complement other interventions. As it is versatile, it can treat various conditions. This may include fibromyalgia, menstrual cramps, sciatica, and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, TENS units are easy to use. One needs to place the electrodes, adjust the settings, and activate the stimulation. However, it is crucial to know the safety precautions for optimal TENS therapy.

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