So you probably just got your TENS unit and open the box and think to yourself- How do I set this up? How do I use it? & Where can I place a TENS unit electrode pad?
Well in this post I will answer all your questions and more about:
- How to set up a TENS unit
- How to effectively use it to reduce and alleviate your aches and pains.
- Where can I place a TENS unit safely
- How long can I use a TENS/How many times per day
- Helpful tips when using a TENS device
- What is the Best TENS unit
- How does a TENS unit work?
Why should you trust me?
I have extensively used TENS units for neck, shoulder, back and knee issues. I became familiar with TENS therapy through countless visits to my chiropractor and physical therapist’s office. I have spent many hours researching and reading how TENS therapy can alleviate pain.
I consider myself knowledgeable in the use of TENS units and have used them regularly to help manage pain over the years. Many of my recommendations are from firsthand experience/use and hopefully my information can be a benefit to you.
OK, let’s get started. By now you have taken the device out of it’s box and have fully charged the battery.
How to effectively use a TENS unit to alleviate aches and pains.
A TENS unit is really easy to use and is pretty straightforward. Some TENS are battery powered while others are powered with a built-in lithium battery. Features and functions vary from device depending on the manufacturer and price point.
In general, you can get a basic TENS unit for under $30 and they can be as much as $500-$1000 for a medical grade unit used by medical professionals.
Below is a quick video describing how to use a TENS unit . It basically involves placing electrodes, or patches to the areas of your skin where you are experiencing pain.
As you can see the process of using a TENS unit is easy and intuitive. In general you want to place the patches or electrodes either directly over the pain area OR on either side of the pain. Once you have placed the patches you can select the intensity level. Turn up the level of intensity until you feel tingling, thumping or buzzing. Comfort is the key. Do not increase the level if you feel pain or discomfort.
Another method of using a TENS unit is over areas in the muscles known as trigger points. Trigger points are tight areas within muscle tissue that causes pain in other parts of the body. A trigger point in the back, for example, may produce pain in the neck. The neck, now acting as a satellite trigger point, may then cause pain in the head.
You can get significant pain relief with as little as 20-30 minutes of using a TENS unit . Some patients have reported that they had relief from pain symptoms 1-2 hours after removing the TENS device. How long you use a TENS is dependent on the cause of your pain, the severity of it and how chronic you pain is.
For certain conditions like chronic pain a TENS can be used for hours at a time. Women in labor can also use a TENS during delivery to block out the pathway signals of pain. The device should never be used for extremely long hours (e.g., 24 hrs). Also never use a TENS during sleep time but it’s fine to use during naps or brief periods of rest.
If you experience increasing pain be sure to let your doctor or medical professional know. If you happen to place the electrode over an area of scar tissue it can cause increased skin resistance and a decrease in the effectiveness of the TENS unit .
The good thing about using a TENS unit is that there are no significant adverse effects from long term use.
Where can I place a TENS unit safely
Check out my TENS unit placement guide that shows you specifically where you can use a TENS unit to reduce pain.
What is the Best TENS unit
In need of a TENS unit or looking to upgrade?
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How does a TENS unit work?
Trans-cutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is an alternative treatment for pain that can be used on severe, chronic (low back pain) or acute pain (after surgery or an injury).
It’s a mode of electrical energy sent in wave forms to the nerves. This electrical energy is delivered through electrodes or patches- as seen below.
The electrodes are placed on the skin (see below) in the affected area and provide electric nerve stimulation providing pain relief.
A TENS unit is a non-invasive way to block or cancel out signals from the nerves to the spinal cord and brain. By using a TENS unit pain messages to the brain and spinal cord may be changed enough to provide temporary and sometimes long lasting relief of pain.
At the same time of controlling and lessening pain, this kind of electrical stimulation can also:
• Improve circulation
• Reduce or eliminate muscle spasms
This guide will help you understand the following:
• Benefits from using a TENS unit
• How a TENS unit works
• What to expect with a TENS unit
• How do I use a TENS unit ?
• Who should not use a TENS unit
Who can benefit from using a TENS unit
A TENS unit can be used to relieve pain associated with a long list of painful medical conditions. Back pain caused by degeneration of the spine, problems with discs in the back, or after back surgery. These are the common conditions that a TENS unit can help reduce/relieve pain.
A TENS can also help with nerve pain, referred to as neuropathy due to diabetes. People that suffer from tension headaches have benefited from the use of a TENS. Cancer patients and people that have been diagnosed with phantom limb pain have also used a TENS to relieve pain.
TENS is also a great way to help with muscle soreness and tightness due to overuse. It can also be used to treat inflammatory conditions and rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.
Athletes and people that work out sometimes get soft pain injuries such as muscle sprains and strains can get some relief by using a TENS.
Sometimes TENS is used after a surgery or incision to treat pain that occurs post-operative. Studies have shown that using a TENS unit can reduce significantly the use of pain medications after surgery. A TENS is a great way to alleviate pain without having to resort to medications.
To recap, the benefits of using a TENS unit can include:
• Increased circulation
• Improvement of sleep
• Pain relief
• Minimize the use of pain relievers and or other prescribed medication to alleviate pain.
• Increased range of motion and function
How a TENS unit works
In simple terms a TENS unit produces an electrical impulse, which can be adjusted for intensity, frequency and pulse. There are many ways a TENS works. For example using a TENS may block or reduce the pathways for pain or increase the release of pain-reducing chemical in your body central nervous system (endorphins, serotonin).
The great thing about a TENS unit is that it’s a non-invasive way to treat and reduce pain. Pain messages may be altered to the point where temporary or even long lasting pain relief can be achieved.
In addition to relieving pain this kind of electrical stimulation can improve blood circulation and help reduce or eliminate entirely muscle spasms.
Recent studies have shown that TENS unit can provide a placebo effect that minimize pain and decrease symptoms. This means that by believing a treatment has beneficial effects on the nervous system.
Below are some important rules to follow when using a TENS unit
• Before applying the electrodes, remove all lotions, oils and other applications to the skin
• Also shave any hair from the area where the electrodes will be applied
• Never place an electrode over an open wound or an area of skin that has become irritated
• Never use a TENS unit in the shower or bathtub
• Never place a TENS unit near your eyes, throat or heart
What to expect with a TENS unit
When using a TENS unit you will feel a strong sensation of tingling and or buzzing. If you experience discomfort when using a TENS or a burning feeling you should discontinue using the device.
Depending on the severity of your pain it may take some time before you see immediate results. Many people have reported good to great results with a reduction in pain and reducing the amount of medications to relieve pain. Even some patients that suffered from chronic pain have stated that using a TENS has permanently cured their pain.
If you begin to notice your pain increase in intensity or duration it may not be that the treatment is not working. Many TENS units are battery powered, so first make sure that the batteries are fully charged. Also the electrodes (adhesive patches) may need to be replaced with newer ones.
If the electrodes and battery are in working order you may want to increase the intensity level of the TENS. You also may benefit from experimenting with the features and settings that your TENS unit has. Most allow you to change the pulse frequency, the duration and the amplitude.
The reason why you may want to change the setting is so that the nervous system does not get accustomed to a specific amount of stimulation, sometimes referred to as “adaptation”
Who should not use a TENS unit
Here are some instances where you would not use a TENS unit
• If you have a heart pacemaker or have a heart rhythm problem
• If you have been diagnosed with epilepsy
• When driving or operating any type of machinery
• If you are suffering from acute, feverish or infectious diseases
• Near heart monitors or alarms
Do NOT place electrodes:
• On the arteries located in the front of your neck
• Across the front of your head
• On your eyes
•If you are pregnant NEVER place on your stomach
• On the heads of any children under the age of 12 years old
• Near any tumors that have been diagnosed as malignant
It is advised that you do not begin using a TENS unit until a medical professional is able to diagnose the source of the pain.
Lastly, if you are in any doubt about any of these warnings listed above, please consult with your doctor.
Using a TENS unit – Frequently asked questions
Question: How do I know what settings to use?
Answer: Each TENS unit has many settings to choose from. You can pick different frequencies, different intensities, and you can also select different massage levels.
Question: What if my muscles begin to “twitch” while I am using the TENS unit?
Answer: If your muscles begin to twitch, this might be an indication that the TENS signals are too strong or too fast.
Question: I do not feel any tingling or buzzing sensation
Answer: This could mean that the electric signal is too low or the intensity level is set too slow. You can adjust the intensity level. Also make sure the device is fully charged as a weak battery can be the cause of a low signal.
Question: How do I take care of my TENS unit ? Are there any specific recommendations to make sure the device lasts a long time?
Answer: You should follow the instructions that come with the unit and use as recommended. You may want to consider disconnecting and removing the electrodes from time to time if you are going to use it for the entire day.
Thank you for reading,