How Often Can You Use A TENS Unit (And Not Turn Into Toast)?

'TENS Units Are Very Safe When Used Correctly'

The Short Answer –

You can use a TENS machine as often as you like, providing you follow certain key guidance as laid out below. This will ensure the safe usage of the machine and protect you from building up a tolerance through repeated usage.

TENS units can provide vital short-term relief. But, without recovery, the pain will return and your TENS machine is most useful as part of a regular course. But how frequent should that be? How long should each treatment last and how often can you use a TENS unit?

With the NHS in the UK actively issuing TENS machines to some patients, it is safe to say, the popularity of a Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation unit has rarely been higher.

But while the pain relief it can offer may be an absolute life saver for patients that are in pain ‘around the clock’, the relief is by no means permanent.

In some cases the pain relief may only last an hour or two.

In other people the pain relief may only last for as long as the machine is delivering electrical impulses into the body via the electrode pads, while for a few the relief may last days after usage.

Pain is truly subjective and varies from person to person. So unfortunately does pain treatment.

As the issuing advice from the Great Western Hospital Pain Management Service sums up…

“Unfortunately, we are unable to predict who is likely to benefit the most”. 

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On the subject of how often can you use a TENS unit, there is no hard and fast rule. To further complicate matters, opinion on the subject is somewhat mixed.

To quote again the guidance from Great Western Hospital’s Pain Management team

“We recommend that at first you try TENS for at least one hour, three times a day. You can use the TENS for as long as you need, as long as you take some breaks. After each treatment check your skin when you remove the pads. Your skin may appear red, this is normal. This redness should fade within an hour.”

This however, differs from the advice given from ireliev – the manufacturer of some of the best devices on the market who instead argue

“…. a TENS therapy session last for around 30 minutes at a time. However, there’s no real danger to longer sessions as long as you give your skin a break from the electrode pads every 20 minutes or so.”

So to merge the two would offer an answer that you can use a TENS machine for up to an hour, providing you change the position of the electrodes slightly every 20 minutes or so – principally to avoid damaging the surface of your skin.

If used properly, TENS units are a very safe form of pain management.

So how often can you use a TENS unit? The simple answer is, if done with breaks from individual areas after twenty minutes or so, then in theory can use it as much as you like.

The only caveat to that is that frequent usage in exactly the same areas at exactly the same intensity and frequency has been proven to build up a tolerance.

This however can be countered by varying the placing and settings of the treatment.

The portability of most TENS machines also means they can be worn while you are ‘on the go’ throughout the day and this can be encouraged if it fits in better with your daily routine.

Indeed, if much of your pain occurs while performing daily activities then this flexibility to gain the short-term pain relief may be essential.

The Final Word –

So how often can you use a TENS unit? As often as you like, and you shouldn’t burn or turn in to toast providing you follow the fair and reasonable guidelines of using such a machine.

In other words, take regular breaks every 20-30 minutes, monitor any potential red marks making sure they don’t become skin damage and always understand how the machine you are using actually works and there.

If you follow this guidance, you can use your TENS machine almost as often as you like – and certainly on a regular basis for maximum effect.

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References –

1. Great Western Hospitals Pain Management Service (2007). ‘Information on the use of TENS in pain management – a patient guide’. https://www.gwh.nhs.uk/media/11768/tens_patient_guide.pdf
2. Irelieve. Too Much Of A Good Thing? www.ireliev.com

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