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TENS Unit Uses: Top 10 Uses for TENS Machines

iTENS small wings with two sets of refill gel packs

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive form of therapy. TENS units are widely used in pain management and rehabilitation centres to help treat a wide range of conditions. One of the useful uses of a TENS unit is alleviating chronic and acute pain. Chronic pain comes from underlying conditions like neuropathic pain, arthritis, bursitis, and fibromyalgia. Meanwhile, acute pain refers to sudden discomfort with identifiable causes like muscle strain and common back and neck pains.

TENS therapy is a drug-free method of pain relief. It uses low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate the nerves, which can help to alleviate pain symptoms. It is also beneficial in relaxing the muscles and promoting healing. Thus, it is a safe and cost-effective treatment method. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand different kinds of pain to utilise the TENS unit more effectively. This article will delve into the top 10 uses of TENS machines.

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TENS Unit Uses: Chronic Pain

Chronic pain affects millions of people worldwide and can significantly impact the quality of life. It is a persistent pain due to various health conditions or disorders. Additionally, it often does not have a definite cure, which is why effective pain management is important. One of the main uses of a TENS unit is to provide temporary relief for long-term cases.

The electrical stimulation from the TENS device helps relieve pain symptoms without potential risks of side effects or complications. The machine also has adjustable settings to help find the most effective results. Users can adjust the frequency, pulse duration, and intensity according to their pain or comfort level.

Moreover, adjusting the electrical pulses helps prevent tolerance from the effects of the stimulation. Individuals can use a personal TENS unit anytime they need it. This helps make chronic pain management more cost-effective, as it minimises the need for medication or going to a pain clinic. However, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional or physical therapist before using the device for chronic pain for the first time.

Chronic Pain vs Acute Pain

Chronic Pain:

  • Lasts for a long period, typically more than three months.
  • It can be constant or intermittent. It is characterised by a dull, aching, or burning sensation.
  • Requires long-term management and treatment strategies.
  • It may also require a multidisciplinary approach involving medication, physical therapy, and mental health support.

Acute Pain:

  • It is the sudden onset of pain, often with identifiable causes such as an injury or damage to the tissue.
  • The pain is usually temporary and disappears when the wound heals, often less than three months.
  • Acute pain serves as a warning sign to the body.
  • The symptoms are typically sharp and intense.

A shirtless man experiencing arm muscle pain

TENS Unit Uses: Muscle Pain

Muscle pain, or myalgia, is a common symptom affecting any muscle tissue or fibre. It can feel like a deep ache, soreness, or sharp pain and is most often related to muscle tension or overuse. The TENS unit uses mild electric currents to the muscles to ease the tension or rigidity. It also increases blood circulation to the area by dilating the blood vessels.

To use the TENS unit, place the electrode pads on the skin near or over the affected muscle belly. Then, turn on the device and start with a low-intensity setting. Ensure the stimulation is strong but comfortable. The mild tingling sensation of the machine can help relieve muscle spasms, tension, inflammation, or cramping.

Furthermore, using a TENS unit for muscle pain can help improve the range of motion. This method is particularly beneficial for athletes or patients recovering from injuries. Individuals may also combine TENS with other physical therapy modalities to enhance the benefits and effectiveness of the treatment.

Electronic Muscle Stimulation

Electronic muscle stimulation, or EMS, is another form of electrical stimulation that induces muscle contractions to strengthen and tone muscles. It is often used in rehabilitation settings or by athletes as part of their training program. EMS devices can be similar to TENS units but focus more on muscle stimulation rather than pain relief.

Another difference from TENS is the use of stronger electrical currents, causing the muscles to contract and relax repeatedly. This helps improve blood flow, strengthen weakened muscle fibres, and prevent muscle atrophy. Thus, it is beneficial for muscle re-education, rehabilitation, and enhancing athletic performance.

A man feeling neck and back pain

TENS Unit Uses: Back and Neck Pain

Other common uses of a TENS unit are back and neck pain relief. Back and neck pain are often interrelated due to poor posture, muscle strain, or underlying medical conditions like nerve impingement or herniated discs. Using a TENS unit on these areas can help alleviate pain and discomfort by blocking pain signals to the brain and releasing natural painkillers like endorphins.

People with back and neck aches may find movement limited and difficult. Thus, a TENS unit can help reduce swelling and inflammation that cause discomfort in the area. To use the device, position the electrode pads near the painful area, such as the lower back or neck. The electrode placement should be on either side of the spinal cord.

It is crucial to avoid sensitive regions, such as the head and front or sides of the neck. These regions house important nerves and structures that may be affected by the electrical stimulation. Moreover, do not place the electrode pads directly on the spinal column to prevent discomfort.

Benefits for the Back and Neck

Many people who experience back and neck pain find using a TENS machine helpful. It helps relieve pain and reduce their reliance on medications. Additionally, TENS units are non-invasive and do not have known side effects, making them a safe alternative for pain management.

TENS therapy can help with various types of conditions, including cervical radiculopathy, spondylosis, and growths and bone spurs. It can also help ease muscle soreness from mechanical neck pain caused by poor posture, tight muscles, lack of movement, and incorrect motions. By using a TENS machine, individuals can increase the mobility of the spine.

A pregnant woman experiencing labour contractions

TENS Unit Uses: Labour Pain

One of the significant TENS unit uses is for labour pain management. It has become in demand among expectant mothers seeking natural pain relief during childbirth. The gentle electrical pulses can help reduce the intensity of contractions. Furthermore, women can adjust the stimulation levels according to their comfort, providing a sense of control during labour.

It is best to start using the TENS device at the early stages of labour. This gives the body enough time to produce endorphins, which can help provide significant pain relief when the labour contractions get stronger. In addition, pregnant women can increase the intensity of the pulses as the labour progresses.

The use of TENS for labour pain has been proven to be safe. It has no harmful side effects for either the mother or the baby. It is advisable to have the device ready with fresh batteries and new pads as the expected due date approaches. To use the device, adhere the electrodes on the lower back where the pain mostly affects.

Safety Guidelines for Pregnancy

  • Do not place the TENS electrodes on the abdomen or near the uterus to prevent stimulating contractions. The ideal pad placement is at the lower back, and the additional option is on the legs.
  • Start with a low-intensity level and gradually increase as the contractions get stronger and longer.
  • Reduce the frequency or intensity if it is adding to discomfort rather than relief.
  • Do not use the TENS unit while in water, such as in a birth pool.
  • Pay close attention to any changes in fetal movement while using the device. Discontinue use if there are any concerns and inform a health professional immediately.

A woman experiencing neuropathy near her feet

TENS Unit Uses: Neuropathic Pain

Neuropathic pain, or neuralgia, is a condition affecting the nervous system. It is a disease or disorder of the nerves that manifests shooting, stabbing, or prickling sensations. Neuropathic pain can be continuous or episodic. Moreover, it can be the result of conditions such as diabetic neuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, or nerve compression.

TENS works by stimulating the sensory nerves to disrupt the pain signals. The TENS unit uses electric pulses to close the pain gate mechanism in the spinal cord. It hinders the pain messages from travelling from the pain site to the brain. As a result, the body perceives lesser pain. Regular use can also help improve pain symptoms and even minimise the frequency of episodic attacks.

To use a TENS machine for nerve pain, position the electrode patches near or alongside the affected nerves. Keep the pad distance at least one to two inches apart. Subsequently, adjust the settings according to the instructions of the manufacturer or recommendations of a healthcare provider. It is also advisable to avoid areas with dry skin, open wounds, or infection.

Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels. It is a common complication of diabetes that can lead to symptoms like tingling and numbness. It generally affects the hands, feet, and legs but can occur to any nerve in the body.

Using a TENS machine for diabetic neuropathy can help alleviate the symptoms of tingling and numbness. It can also help improve blood circulation and regenerate peripheral nerves. This can help repair damaged tissues. It is essential to follow the safety guidelines to avoid causing further harm or damage to the nerves.

An elderly man experiencing knee pain looking at his knee

TENS Unit Uses: Arthritis

Individuals with arthritis can also use TENS therapy for pain relief. The uses for TENS units extend to chronic joint pains. Arthritis covers more than 150 conditions that cause swelling and inflammation in the joints. The common chronic conditions are rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and gout. Older people are more susceptible to arthritis due to the normal wear and tear of the ligaments and cartilage.

Arthritis often affects the knees, hands, hips, feet, and lower back. The pain starts at the smaller joints but may spread further without proper treatment. Thus, using TENS therapy for arthritis can provide localised treatment. This approach minimises systemic side effects that are typically associated with medicines.

To operate a TENS machine, place the electrode patches around the affected joint or along the nerve pathways leading to the joint. Adjust the intensity and pulse rates to a comfortable level. The stimulation can also help relax the muscles and improve joint mobility. Additionally, modern TENS units, like the iTENS, have pre-set programs for different types of arthritis pain. Users can simply select the treatment from the menu to start the therapy session.


Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that commonly affects the knees, hips, hands, and spine. It occurs when the protective cartilage that cushions the ends of bones wears down over time. This can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling in the affected joints. Moreover, the symptoms may differ individually.

As the joint damage progresses, pain, swelling, and loss of motion become more pronounced. It can also result in muscle weakness and more stress on the joint. Over time, it may lose its normal shape and develop osteophytes or small bone growths. Using TENS with adequate intensities can help diminish the impact of osteoarthritis pain.

A woman holding her pained knee

TENS Unit Uses: Bursitis

Another common condition where TENS therapy can be beneficial is bursitis. Bursitis is the inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs that lubricate areas where tendons or muscles rub against bones. The causes of bursitis include repetitive motion, injury, or prolonged pressure. Individuals experience tenderness and difficulty moving the bones, such as the shoulder or elbow.

The uses of a TENS unit for bursitis include controlling pain signals and reducing inflammation. To start treatment, place the electrodes around or on the side of the bones or joints. Ensure that the pads are firmly in place and do not come off with movement. Follow the usage guidelines of the device for effective treatment. After the session, turn off the unit and clean the pads before storage.

One of the benefits of TENS therapy for bursitis is promoting faster healing by increasing blood flow to the affected area. This can help reduce swelling and stiffness, allowing for better range of motion. It also prevents the build-up of calcium deposits in soft tissues, which may lead to permanent immobility in the area.

Different Types of Bursitis

  • Prepatellar bursitis: Inflammation of the bursae in front of the kneecap. It is also known as housemaid’s knee or carpenter’s knee. In addition, the symptoms include tenderness to touch and oedema.
  • Trochanteric bursitis: Swelling near the bony prominence of the hip bone. The symptoms may manifest as pain to the outside hip, buttocks, or sides of the upper thigh.
  • Olecranon bursitis: It is a prevalent condition involving inflammation of the sac at the tip of the elbow. Due to its location, it is susceptible to trauma or injury.
  • Achilles tendon bursitis: Swelling of the bursae between the Achilles tendon and heel bone.

A woman woken up by back pain

TENS Unit Uses: Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia pain relief is also one of the uses for TENS units. Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that radiates widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is not clear, but it is believed to be abnormalities in certain chemicals in the brain and how it processes pain signals. Furthermore, the symptoms may include sleep disturbances and mood issues.

Using a TENS unit can be an effective way to manage chronic pain from fibromyalgia. Individuals may experience relief from muscle stiffness and discomfort. Most pain occurs in the back muscles. However, it can also spread to the arms, abdomen, shoulders, and legs. To use the device, place the electrode patches on either side of the spine, on top of the shoulder blades, or beside the painful muscles.

Subsequently, adjust the settings based on the pain level. Avoid exceeding the recommended parameters to prevent any adverse effects. Regular use of a TENS unit for fibromyalgia can help individuals maintain an active lifestyle and improve their overall quality of life.


Hyperalgesia is a condition that causes increased sensitivity to pain. It can occur when there is damage to the nervous system, leading to heightened responses to painful stimuli. Individuals with hyperalgesia may experience more intense sensations than usual. For example, mild pressure or touch can become sensitive for others.

Using a TENS unit for hyperalgesia can help diminish pain intensity and sensitivity. By targeting specific areas with electrodes, individuals can disrupt the pain signals from reaching the brain. Additionally, both high and low-frequency TENS can reduce hyperalgesia after the therapy session. The therapeutic effects may last between 12 to 24 hours.

A woman experiencing severe period pain

TENS Unit Uses: Endometriosis

People with endometriosis may also find beneficial uses for TENS units. Endometriosis is a chronic disease that occurs when the tissues that line inside the uterus grow outside it. This can cause severe pain and discomfort in the pelvic area, especially during menstruation. Moreover, it can cause unusual bleeding and make it hard to get pregnant.

There is no cure for endometriosis, and it can cause long-term pain. However, there are several treatment options to deal with the condition. TENS therapy is one of the non-invasive methods to manage pain. It minimises the need for intrusive procedures, such as surgery or medication. By placing the electrode patches on the lower abdomen or back, individuals can experience relief from pelvic pain associated with endometriosis.

Furthermore, TENS machines can also help relieve primary dysmenorrhoea or period pain. It is a common treatment to help reduce the discomfort of menstrual cramps. To use the device, place the electrode pads on the lower abdomen or lower back, depending on where the pain is most severe.

Wireless Devices for Pelvic Pain

For individuals with chronic pelvic pain, wireless TENS units can be a convenient and effective option. These devices offer the same pain-relieving benefits as traditional devices but with the added convenience of being cordless. This makes it easier to move around and go about daily activities.

One of the reputable wireless devices available in the market is the iTENS. It has ultra-thin, flexible electrode pads for more comfort. They are discreet to use with no wires that can get in the way of movement. In addition, users can control the stimulation from their smartphones via a Bluetooth connection.

A man holding his pained elbow

TENS Unit Uses: Tendinopathy

One of the uses of a TENS unit is for managing tendinopathy or tendon pain. Tendinopathy is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the connective tissues. It occurs in areas such as the shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles due to overuse or injuries. Consequently, it can cause discomfort and limited range of motion.

The main cause of tendinopathy is overuse injury. Repetitive movements that make the fibrous tissues inflamed and become painful, such as running, jumping, or lifting heavy weights. By using a TENS unit, individuals can alleviate the pain in the tendon. The increase in blood flow also helps reduce swelling and promote healing.

Individuals with tendinopathy may place the TENS pads on the sides of the affected tendon. Avoid putting them directly on the tendon, as this may cause further irritation. TENS therapy can be used in conjunction with other treatments, such as physical therapy or rest, to help manage tendinopathy effectively. Overall, a TENS unit can be an effective tool in managing tendon pain.

Different Types of Tendonitis

  • Achilles tendonitis: Inflammation of the large tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone.
  • Lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow): Pain and swelling on the outside of the elbow due to the overuse of the forearm muscles.
  • Medial epicondylitis (golfer’s elbow): Inflammation on the inside of the elbow due to repetitive gripping and wrist movements.
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis: Swelling of the tendons in the shoulder that helps stabilise and move the joint.
  • Patellar tendonitis (jumper’s knee): An overuse injury of the tendon that straightens the knee.
  • Extensor tendonitis: Disorder of the tendon in the back of the hand and wrist.


The uses for TENS units are versatile and comprehensive. The portable device can help treat a wide range of chronic and acute pain conditions. It works by stimulating the nerves to block pain signals and triggering the release of endorphins. These approaches can provide temporary relief for various ailments. It can also be a valuable tool in physical therapy or rehabilitation. One of the common uses of TENS is pain relief for muscle, arthritis, and neuropathic pain.

Aside from chronic conditions, TENS therapy can provide adequate relief from labour pain. Proper electrode placement is vital for effective results. It is also recommended to consult a health professional or physical therapist for guidance before using the device. This treatment method may not be suitable for people with heart illness, epilepsy, and cardiac pacemakers. Nevertheless, using adequate and comfortable intensities can help attain safe and optimal results.

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