How do you use a TENS unit?


Used as a method of pain control, a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit is a portable device that has been proven effective in chronic pain patients. While the type of pain that patients experience as a result of rheumatoid arthritis or nerve and muscle damage may vary, the general treatment that is delivered using a TENS machine will remain the same.


How The TENS System Works

The TENS system works by delivering safe levels of electrical impulses to the affected painful areas on a patient’s body via electrodes that are placed strategically on the patient’s skin. If, for example, the patient suffers from spinal pain as a result of an automobile accident, the electrodes will be placed along the patient’s spine in an effort to effectively target the pain-causing nerves.

With the electrodes in place, the electrical nerve stimulation unit is turned on and it delivers a safe and controlled level of electrical stimulation into the targeted areas via the attached electrodes.

Our bodies have a low electric current running through them, the TENS unit works by slightly altering the frequency of the current that is being generated by the painful zones. When this frequency is altered, without interfering with the rest of the body’s natural functions, the brain receives a different message from the areas of pain. The message is no longer one of pain. With this message altered, patients are allowed to feel a significant reduction in their perception of amount of pain that they were experiencing prior to their TENS treatment sessions.

There are two forms of therapies using the TENS device; one offers a low frequency stimulation that will instruct a patient’s brain to release endorphins into the patient’s system. Endorphins are the ultimate in natural painkillers and can rapidly improve a patient’s level of comfort. The second form of TENS therapy utilizes a higher frequency stimulation that effectively changes the signals that the painful areas are sending to the patient’s brain. When the brain receives a signal that there is pain, the patient feels pain – this signal happens so rapidly that a patient is rarely aware of the amount of time that passes between cutting his finger and actually feeling the pain from the cut. If this signal to the patient’s brain can be altered slightly, the patient will be able to feel a reduction in pain.

The steps involved in using a TENS unit are very easy to follow:

  • Carefully clean the areas on your skin where the electrodes will be placed; rubbing alcohol can help to sanitize your skin. Allow the areas to dry thoroughly.
  • Place a thin layer of gel onto the bottom of the electrodes.
  • Apply the electrodes to your skin; secure them using medical tape if necessary.
  • Once in place, connect the electrodes to the portable TENS unit.
  • Adjust the frequency of the TENS machine and turn it on.

If, during the course of treatment your muscles start to twitch uncontrollably you should lower the settings on your TENS system as it may be too high of a setting for your type of pain. On the other hand, if you fail to feel a tingling sensation during treatment, your TENS may not be turned high enough for it to be effective.

Who Can Benefit From Using A TENS System

An electrical nerve stimulation unit is effective for many types of pain; it can help to reduce the intensity in both chronic and acute forms of pain for the following patients.

  • Patients who are recovering from surgery and are seeking out natural painkillers as an alternative to potentially addictive prescription pain medications can find great benefit with a TENS device.
  • Patients who have been in an automobile accident and have suffered negative health effects as a result of nerve and muscle damage can find relief for the types of pain that they experience.
  • Most forms of arthritis and other types of joint pain can be relieved by using electrical current therapy.
  • General back and muscle pain can be treated using a targeted electric current.
  • Studies have also shown that some cancer patients are afforded a level of pain relief by using the electrical impulses that are released by the TENS unit.

There are many patients who, for a number of different reasons, are simply not able to take prescription pain relievers. For patients with a chronic pain condition, life can often be wrought with discomfort as well as an inability to function normally. By using a TENS unit, patients are introduced to natural painkillers that can greatly improve their functionality and their overall outlook on life!

Words of Caution

Prior to beginning your TENS therapy treatments you should make your health provider aware of any medical conditions that you have. While there are very few negative side effects that can be experienced using this form of electrical stimulation, most patients claim to feel a slight tingling sensation during therapy sessions, there are several medical conditions that could make using a TENS device risky.

  • Pregnant women often suffer from painful nerve, joint, and muscle pain as a natural part of their pregnancy; however, prior to using the electrical nerve stimulation unit, pregnant women should obtain a clearance from the medical professional monitoring their pregnancy.
  • Patients who use a pacemaker should never use a TENS machine as it could adversely affect the functionality of their life-saving pacemaker.
  • Patients suffering from high blood pressure should only use the electric stimulator therapy near their neck if approved by a medical professional.

Looking for a Tens Unit? Check out our Tens Unit Reviews.


About Andy

Andy writes for a number of health related sites but has always been fascinated by alternative medicine and home remedies. His deep interests in nature and the body's innate ability to heal itself (given the right condition) have lead him to a pivotal time in his life - and so, Holistic Home Fitness was born. While it's relatively new at the moment, Andy wants to build this site into a huge reference site for a more holistic approach to health and fitness.