How To Use A TENS Machine

'What You Need To Know Before Starting'

TENS Machines can bring great pain relief. But used incorrectly and your TENS Machine becomes a useless waste of money. What Is The Difference? Learning How To Use A TENS machine is simple but essential…

Full image of a TENS unit laid out on a table

A TENS machine, when applied correctly, can provide vital electrical pulses from a mobile device through pads (electrodes) that you place on painful areas of your body.

The pulses help to block signals from your central nervous system to your brain about potential pain. By doing so, you can enjoy some instant pain relief that can last many hours.

Used properly, these are a very safe form of pain relief without the side effects of painkillers or other drugs.

Many family doctors now recommend these and some even have TENS machines in their surgeries for patients to use. But again, the appropriate guidance is a must.

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How To Use A TENS Machine –

Every TENS machine will come with it’s own set of manufacturer’s instructions and it worth reading these before you start.

I appreciate the last thing most people do on purchasing an item is read the instructions, but in the case of a machine that is going to be sending mini electrical charges into your body, then it is probably essential this time.

A woman stood on a pile of books, but finally reading the instructions

There are plenty of conditions, such as placing the electrodes (pads) on your heart or eyes, that could do very serious damage to you if you don’t read the warnings.

But read the instructions, understand the equipment you are using and they are one of the safest forms of pain relief available.

I will give you some general rules in this article that can applied across the board – but please note that these IN NO WAY, should be considered a substitute for reading the basic instruction that comes with your TENS machine.

Getting To Know Your TENS Machine

The first thing you can get before buying a TENS machine, is a basic understanding of the generic controls.

Although a TENS machine is a relatively cheap device, the output is still highly customisable. Users typically have control of the following outputs –


As it suggests, these allows you to adjust the intensity of the stimulation.

However, it is worth remembering that much of the clinical data has found the higher intensity setting to be more effective, but you should vary this and see what seems to work best for you.


This is the number of electrical pulses per second. High frequency is best for acute pain and typically ranges from 80-120 cycles per second. Low frequency emissions are much better for chronic pain and typically range from 1-20 pulses or ‘cycles per second’.

It has been suggested that different frequencies actually target different natural opioids in your body (Vance et al) 


This is measured in microseconds and is a reading for the time that each current enters the skin for during a single pulse.

There are several other potential controls that your TENS machine may have, but these are the key ones and those that almost every machine will have.

How To Use A TENS Machine – The Specifics.


Having got to know the basic controls and what they mean, it is worth knowing the basic rules for using a TENS machine, as listed below.

1. Make sure you have read the instructions

A drawing of a hand pressing buttons on a TENS unit

2. Decide how many areas you are targeting in one session and therefore how many electrode pads you need to plug in (this will depend on how many channels your TENS machine has).

3. Place the pads carefully on the area of your body that you want to target.

4. Try the TENS unit for the first time on the lowest intensity.

5. If the first session did not deliver the required pain relief, then on your second session, start altering the intensity – gradually increasing it until you can feel it’s effect on your pain.

6. Never place the pads on your eyes, heart, throat, mouth, temples or sinus nerves.

7. Avoid using if your targeted area is really swollen, has an open wound or is very sore to touch.

8. If you device has a built-in battery, then of course you will need to charge it for at least ten hours before use.

9. Make sure you clean your skin before attaching the electrodes – getting rid of any grease/ oil from your skin.

10. Look after the pads by trying to avoid touching the gel on their surface.

11. For better adhesion, add a few drops of water to the side of the pads designed for connecting to the skin.

12. Don’t try and use the TENS machine if the battery is already low and therefore likely to run out – put it back on charge and use it again later.

13. Always have a plan as to how long you will keep the electrodes on for. This can be built up accordingly, but never fall asleep with them on.

14. When you are finished, make sure all the wires are accounted for and stored back in the box ready for next time.

15. Keep the TENS machine safe, away from crushing risk and, as with all technology, away from really strong sunlight.

Times When You Shouldn’t Use A TENS Machine –

There are a few circumstances under which you shouldn’t use a TENS machine. These are –

1) Cardiovascular Problems.

If you suffer with heart problems, or are considered by your doctor to be at moderately high risk, then avoid using a TENS machine.

2) Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant you can still use a tens machine, but should do so after speaking with doctor.

3) Electrical Implants.

If you have any form of electrical implant such as a pacemaker.

4) Epilepsy

Electrical impulses have been known to trigger epileptic seizures, so if you suffer with epilepsy, then avoid tens machines.

5) Flying.

It is is not forbidden to use one on a flight, but you should check with your airline before flying if you intent to use one on the flight.

The Final Word –

TENS machines can be a very useful piece of pain fighting equipment, but in order to get the best out of them, you need to know how to use a TENS machine first.

This is no different to many other electrical devices, but is much more important this time because we are dealing with your health.

However, if you look after your TENS machine as we have described above and take note of all the features you chosen device has, then there is no reason the using a tens machine wont be an extremely safe form of pain relief.

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References –


1) Carol GT Vance, Dana L Dailey , Barbara A Rakel & Kathleen A Sluka. (2014). Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence. Pain Management

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