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What Does A TENS Machine Do: Treatable Conditions & Operation Guide

An elderly woman using iTENS on her arm while reading a book

People may wonder what does a TENS machine do. A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machine provides pain relief for various conditions by blocking pain messages and triggering the release of endorphins. It is effective for treating neuropathic pain, musculoskeletal pain, acute pain, and chronic pain. This device is easy to use. Simply apply the electrodes near the pain source and adjust the settings accordingly.

TENS therapy is growing in popularity as a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. It is often used in hospitals and pain clinics, but people may also purchase personal devices for convenient relief. It is easy to self-administer the treatment, and it has advanced features like preset modes that enhance the experience of using a TENS unit. This article will present information on how TENS machines work, the types of pain they can treat, and how to use them.

What Does a TENS Machine Do and How Does It Work?

When people ask what does a TENS machine do, they should know that it relieves pain by delivering low-voltage electric currents to the body using electrode pads. These electrical impulses can trigger analgesic mechanisms that alleviate aches. Moreover, it also has other benefits that make it a popular alternative method of pain relief.

It works through the adjustable settings that enable users to customise their therapy based on their medical condition. High-frequency electrical stimulation (50-120 Hz) triggers the spinal nerve cells and blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. This is also known as the pain gate mechanism, which was proposed in the Gate Control Theory of Pain. High frequencies also help in reducing muscular pain, decreasing soreness and improving blood flow to the target area.

Meanwhile, low-frequency electronic stimulation (2-10 Hz) induces the production of endogenous opioids. These are natural painkiller hormones that bind to opioid receptors and reduce the overall pain level. They can also help improve moods and promote a better sense of well-being. Moreover, it aids in reducing inflammation. This can help enhance the range of motion and consequently improve the quality of life.

Benefits of Using a TENS Unit

  • Non-invasive: a TENS unit does not use invasive procedures like injections or incisions. This eliminates the risk of infections and other complications.
  • Drug-free: TENS also does not require the use of medication during treatments. It is particularly helpful in helping individuals reduce their intake of pain medications.
  • Complementary: it can help supplement other treatment methods, making it ideal to include in pain management plans.
  • Portable: many products have portable and lightweight designs for convenient use. Some even have wearable electrode pads, so individuals can discreetly use them underneath clothing.
  • Versatile: TENS works for various acute and chronic pain conditions.

A muscular man holding his nape and lower back

What Does a TENS Machine Do – Treatable Conditions

What does a TENS machine do is it can provide relief for different types of pain conditions. Firstly, neuropathic pain. This is typically caused by damage, pressure, or injury to the nerves. One example of this is diabetic neuropathy, which can cause numbness and aches in the legs, hands, and feet. Sciatica, carpal tunnel syndrome, and Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) are examples of conditions that cause nerve pain.

Secondly, musculoskeletal pain. This often arises from conditions that impact the muscles, bones, and ligaments. Arthritis pain in adults is a common example of a musculoskeletal condition. There are various types, like ankylosing spondylitis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. TENS is also effective for muscle pain.

Thirdly, acute pain conditions. These aches are often sudden and intense, typically caused by specific factors such as injuries. This includes postoperative pain, menstrual pain, and labour pain. Lastly, chronic conditions are ongoing pain symptoms that persist for more than six months. This type covers conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic backaches, and chronic neck pain.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

TENS have some potential side effects, although rare. For instance, skin irritation. Some individuals might experience redness, itching, or discomfort at the electrode placement site. Healthcare professionals advise patients to monitor their skin closely during and after TENS therapy sessions. They may also advise using hypoallergenic electrode patches.

Additionally, some users may experience muscle spasms during electrotherapy. They can happen when the electrical stimulation triggers the muscle to contract too forcefully. Moreover, TENS can interfere with metallic implants, raising the muscle tissue temperature to damaging levels. If side effects persist, it is advisable to seek a medical professional before they become a major concern.

A step-by-step guide on how to operate the iTENS app

What Does a TENS Machine Do – How to Use the Unit

After knowing what does a TENS machine do, people need to understand how to use the unit correctly. TENS machines are easy to operate and self-administer. To start a treatment session, the individual must apply the electrodes to muscles near or on the pain source. For example, the electrode placement for knee pain is on the muscles around the knee and not the joint itself.

After securing the pads, the individual can proceed to turn on the machine. Then, they should gradually increase the settings until they reach the optimal level for their health condition. They may set a timer to keep track of the session duration. Afterwards, they can turn off the machine and remove the electrodes.

On average, sessions typically last between 15 to 30 minutes. However, this may vary depending on the settings they use and their condition. It is crucial to avoid exceeding the prescribed session time since it may cause skin irritation or mild burns. If the user wishes to use it again, they must wait at least 20 minutes.

Safety Guidelines

Safety is a vital aspect of learning how to use a TENS machine. Firstly, consult a medical professional to determine if TENS is a suitable treatment for a particular condition. They can also advise the correct settings to use. Secondly, ensure the skin is clean and dry before putting the electrodes. Do not place the TENS pads on open wounds or infected skin.

Thirdly, it is crucial to avoid sensitive areas like the head, eyes, throat, spine, and near varicose veins. The electrical stimulation in these locations may worsen the condition or cause complications. Lastly, do not use TENS near water.


What does a TENS machine do is a common question for people new to electrotherapy. A TENS machine delivers low-voltage electric currents to the body through electrode pads to relieve pain. It works by triggering analgesic mechanisms in the body to alleviate aches and improve blood flow. By customising the settings, users can adjust the frequency of electrical stimulation to target specific pain conditions. TENS machines are effective for treating neuropathic pain, musculoskeletal pain, acute pain, and chronic pain conditions.

Using a TENS device involves applying electrodes to muscles near the source of pain. Then, the operator gradually increases the settings to a comfortable level and sets a timer for the session. For safety, people need to consult a medical professional, follow electrode placement guidelines, and start with the lowest intensity. By following these guidelines, individuals can effectively use TENS devices to manage pain and improve their well-being. Those interested in wireless TENS units may consider the iTENS.

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