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TENS Unit Uses – What Pain Conditions Can It Treat?

An elderly woman reading a book while using an iTENS electrode on her wrist

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive form of electrotherapy. A TENS unit uses electrode pads to deliver electrical impulses to the body. High-frequency stimulation helps with acute pain conditions like sports injuries and postoperative pain. Meanwhile, low-frequency stimulation is suitable for chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis. Lastly, people use high and low frequencies to help with labour pain. However, it is best to consult a healthcare provider before using TENS.

The effects of TENS therapy stimulation vary from person to person. However, it helps many people reduce or replace their intake of pain medicines. It is an easy-to-use and convenient medical device that many doctors and physical therapists use as part of treatment. People also use these machines in their homes and other places. This article will present the different pain conditions TENS can treat, such as chronic, acute, and labour pain.

TENS Unit Uses – Manage Chronic Pain Conditions

TENS machines are electrotherapy devices that alleviate various chronic pain conditions. A TENS unit uses electrode pads to deliver electrical currents to the body. Using low-frequency stimulation (2-10 Hz) triggers the production of natural painkillers called endorphins. These hormones build up to relieve pain in the targeted area. Typically, people feel its effects around 40 minutes into the session.

Chronic pain is long-lasting aches that last more than six months. Often, they are caused by underlying health conditions. Low-frequency stimulation is suitable for chronic pain because its effects last for hours. Furthermore, people may use it up to four times daily. However, it is best to consult a healthcare professional before using electrotherapy devices. This is because some health issues react negatively to electric impulses.

There are many conditions for which TENS is suited. Fibromyalgia is an ailment that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, and general fatigue. Another condition is arthritis. This causes joint pain and swelling in one or more joints. Migraine is another chronic pain condition. It is a pulsating or throbbing headache that lasts for days and reoccurs.

How to Use the Device

TENS machines are convenient and easy to use. Here are some general steps on how to use one:

  • Clean the skin with soap and water, then dry it. This helps remove excess body oils.
  • Place the electrodes near or on the origin of pain.
  • Turn the machine on. Start with the lowest settings to avoid shock or discomfort.
  • Gradually increase the settings until the optimal level is reached. People may also select preset modes. Sessions usually last between 20 to 60 minutes.
  • After the time elapses, turn the machine off.
  • Remove the electrode pads and store them for future use.

A woman frowning and clutching her pained neck

TENS Unit Uses – Alleviate Acute Pain

A TENS unit uses electric currents to alleviate acute pain conditions. Typically, a TENS unit has a frequency range of 1-150 Hz and an intensity range of 0-80 mAmp. Many people benefit from TENS therapy. Using high-frequency stimulation (50-120 Hz) triggers spinal nerve cells to block pain signals from reaching the brain. This is the Pain Gate Mechanism described in the Gate Control Theory of Pain.

Acute pain is described as sudden or short-lived pain. These are aches caused by cuts, wounds, burns, or injuries. Typically, the aches fade as the injury heals, and it does not last longer than six months. However, it can develop into chronic pain. High-frequency stimulation is helpful for this type of pain because it takes effect immediately or within 30 minutes of the session.

One example of acute pain is postoperative pain. This is typical after surgery and felt throughout the body. Body aches from strains and sprains also fall into acute pain. However, people must not overuse high frequencies because it may cause skin irritation and mild burns. It may also build tolerance for electrical stimulation, which reduces the effectiveness of TENS.

Benefits of Using the Machine

TENS therapy is an effective pain management method. Many people use it to reduce or replace their intake of oral pain medications. This is helpful for people with allergic reactions to such medicines. In addition, it helps individuals avoid the adverse effects of pain medications. This includes nausea, depression, constipation, and headaches.

Additionally, TENS machines help many patients during their rehabilitation. It helps speed up healing and recovery. TENS has a massage-like effect that relaxes the muscles and increases blood flow to the area. Endorphins also reduce inflammation and improve moods. Altogether, it increases the quality of life.

A pregnant woman holding her stomach in a clinic

TENS Unit Uses – Control Labour Pain

A TENS unit uses electrical pulses to provide relief during labour. Pregnant women may consult their doctors regarding using TENS to ensure safety. Operating a TENS machine for labour is a straightforward process. A birth partner may place the TENS pads on the lower back and each side of the spinal cord. Proper pad placement is crucial for delivering effective pain relief. It is essential to avoid placing the pads on the abdomen.

They may start with low-frequency stimulation and then increase to high frequencies as the labour progresses. They may consult their obstetrician for advice on which intensity settings to use. It is vital to follow the safety guidelines to prevent side effects from occurring.

Improper use of TENS may lead to skin irritation or mild burns. In some cases, it may even cause muscle or nerve damage. It is also recommended to use new pads to prevent them from slipping during movement. Lastly, they should never use TENS near water because it may cause electrical shocks.

Proper Pad Placement

Proper electrode placement is crucial for delivering electrical impulses to the targeted area. There are different placements for different conditions. It is best to consult a healthcare provider or read the guidelines from the manufacturer on where to place the pads.

For example, pads are placed on the lower back and leg for sciatica. Meanwhile, they are placed on muscly areas around the knee for knee pain. It is crucial to avoid infected, irritated, or broken skin. This is because it may worsen the condition. Furthermore, avoid sensitive areas like the spinal cord, chest, eyes, and throat.


A TENS unit uses high and low frequencies to alleviate various aches. High-frequency stimulation induces the spinal nerve cells to block pain messages from reaching the brain. On the other hand, low-frequency stimulation triggers the production of endorphins. This makes it a helpful pain management method for acute aches like sports injuries and postoperative pain. It also helps with chronic pain from migraines and arthritis. Lastly, it may help with labour pains.

However, it is crucial to consult a medical professional before using electrotherapy devices. They may assess if TENS suits their health condition. Additionally, they may advise on duration, regularity, and settings. Moreover, the user should read the guidelines provided by the manufacturer. This will help prevent misusing the machine. Furthermore, it is ideal to use FDA-certified devices to avoid machine malfunction. The iTENS from iTENS Australia is an option for a wireless TENS unit.

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