TENS Units: Proper Use

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is used to block pain signals by sending mild electric currents from the area of the body that is causing pain to the brain. The production level of endorphins, the natural painkillers produced by the body, can also be raised by using a TENS unit.

Obtain Professional Instruction

The proper use of a TENS unit must be initially facilitated by a doctor or a physical therapist. Thorough knowledge of how to operate the machine determines how well the unit will work and whether it works at all. Its important, for instance, that the electrodes be placed where they should be and that they are positioned properly.

Additionally, learning the operation of the TENS unit is essential such as knowing how to change the batteries, change the voltage and frequency by manipulating the controls and settings, and setting the correct length of time and intensity of the electrical stimulations, which depends on where the pain is located as well as the type of pain.

Works for Many, But Not All

People suffering from such maladies as arthritis, joint pain, and fibromyalgia often benefit greatly from the use of a TENS unit. Relief from pain using one of these devices can sometimes last for hours. For others, a reduction in the use of medications consumed to alleviate pain is accomplished, as well. It must be noted, however, that others have found no pain relief from the use of a TENS unit.

Important Things to Know About Usage

To properly utilize a TENS unit, small pads that are fitted with electrodes are positioned at the pain site no closer than one inch (two and a half centimeters) apart. When the TENS unit is activated, it generates little electric shocks, stimulating surrounding nerves in the location. Users can control the intensity, how often the shocks are produced, and how long they last with controls situated at the base of the unit.

Units are designed as small and portable (some can even be worn on belts to be turned off or on as needed throughout the day) or as larger units for use in professional medical settings. Higher frequencies of TENS units are thought to block pain messages sent to the brain, while lower frequencies may increase stimulation of endorphins. When using a TENS unit, the patient should feel a sensation of mild tingling, but muscles should not contract.


Pacemakers and other surgically placed internal electronic devices should not be used in conjunction with a TENS unit. The TENS electrode pads should not be positioned anywhere close to the eyes or the mouth, nor should they be put on the sides of the head. Do not insert the electrodes anywhere internally, such as in the mouth or any other body cavity.

According to www.pcdoctor-guide.com, it is possible to operate a computer while wearing a TENS unit, although I’m not sure how productive you would be:

    “I wore a TENS unit for several hours and carried out a variety of PC-related tasks on both a desktop system and a notebook I typed at the keyboard, plugged and unplugged USB drives, handled external hard drives, plugged devices into a variety of ports. TENS seems to have no effect on a PC whatsoever and Id have no hesitation is using a PC while wearing one.”

When buying a TENS unit, be cautious to purchase only from suppliers that have been approved by such governing agencies as the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Priced normally from between one hundred to several hundred dollars, individuals covered by health insurance most likely will be able to have the cost reimbursed by submitting a doctors prescription as proof of need.