How to Use a TENS Unit Easily at Home

how to use a tens unit

Believe it or not the modern medical Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) has actually been around for centuries, albeit in a much more fascinatingly cruder model.  Dating back to earlier than 2500BC Egyptians found the Atlantic Torpedo Stingray (a type of electric eel/fish) had electro genic properties and they discovered that the shocks administered by the power-driven fish could offer relief from pain. That’s exactly the reason why you should learn how to use a TENS unit and enjoy its benefits.

A Little Bit of History

A physician of that era, although unaccustomed to the science of electricity yet way ahead of his time, documented the fact that when ‘standing’ on the electric fish, the stimulation received from said fish, offered relief from pain.  There were Hieroglyphs found portraying this as a form of treatment used in the medicine of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Race forwards a few millennia and we now have the exact same concept on offer, though packaged and parceled in a totally different form. Once you know how to use a tens unit, you might understand what’s the fascination about.

What’s a TENS Unit?

TENS is a form of electrotherapy intended for alternative fast reprieve of acute and chronic pain within joints, muscles, nerves and/or bones. It is a drug-free substitute in seeking relief from symptoms of pain and therefore has the benefit of alleviating any side-effects possibly caused by imbibing prescribed medications. TENS mechanism delivers electrical signals onto the body via electrodes which then direct a safe electrical current straight into the nerves in order to block pain signals from going to the brain. It can be used as a stand-alone treatment for liberation of pain or administered alongside other procedures consequently combining a variety of ways to lessen pain, especially when it’s chronic.

Is TENS Unit Effect?

So far there is inconclusive evidence from scientific research to confirm whether it is a truly effective method for curing pain but there is a modicum of proof that it seems to aid some people with varying degrees of success.  It’s not a cure for medical conditions experienced by any persons. Moreover, it’s always best to seek professional assessment and advice before undertaking the use of this form of treatment. TENS is not suitable for every type of pain condition and injury.

Notably, TENS has been modified and used as an aid for birthing with mothers in agreement that the small and efficient handheld portable machines have been of great help during the painful process of labour prior to birth. Indeed, it is somewhat due to the portability of this type of treatment that sufferers of pain find it effective because it brings a form of comfort as they can continue with their daily life while administering a source of pain reduction, sometimes lasting for hours. Again, it works differently on each individual since it’s dependent upon the type, scale and persistence of pain being treated.

tens unit for pain

Types of TENS Units and Cost

There is a preliminary cost in obtaining a ‘starter kit’ TENS unit but once purchased you will then be able to self-administer your treatment.  The prices start at around $25. The kit will include the device itself plus sticky pads (also referred to as electrodes), wires, leads, batteries and/or charger (if it is a rechargeable model). There is a plethora of various types of make and model all of which differ in price.  According to your requirements the units will range in price from the basic budget ‘over the counter’ models to the expensive devices with supplementary technical features costing hundreds and thousands of pounds.  After your initial outlay, you may find some small running costs of additional electrodes and batteries (for the non-rechargeable models).

Read More: How to Give a Full Body Massage to Relieve Pain

How to Use a TENS Unit

So now you know a little about the background and ethos behind TENS, let’s have a run through of how to use one. Follow the steps and you should be just fine.

Step 1

First get yourself acquainted with the contents of your starter kit. You should find the device, the electrodes (which will attach to your skin), wires and leads (which will attach the electrodes to the device), batteries (if not a rechargeable model), gel (for aiding electrical charge to reach nerves).

Step 2

Test the battery pack to make sure it is fully charged. If it is a rechargeable model then connect the battery to its charger and charge fully.

Step 3

The simplicity of the unit should be apparent. There are 2 control knobs. One denotes the electrical signal input from being strong to weak. The other designates the electrical signal to be fast or slow. Ensure both control knobs are in the ‘off’ position before you start.

Step 4

Use a little rubbing alcohol to clean the skin where the electrodes will be placed and then allow your skin to dry. Layer a thin coat of gel to the bottom of each electrode. This gel will aid the electrical signals to reach the nerves under your skin.

Step 5

Put the electrodes on your skin in your desired place (i.e. lower back for lower back pain – seek assistance if you cannot reach the area yourself). Use some medical tape or a large plaster to cover the electrode and keep it firmly in place. Afterwards, catch the pin connectors to the end of the electrode wires and attach to the electrodes. Now plug the electrode wires into the TENS unit. Slowly turn each control knob to a setting that is correct for your requirements. You should feel a tingling sensation.

Step 6

Hook the TENS unit to your belt or place in a pocket. Allow significant time to deliver your treatment and then turn the controls to the ‘off’ position. Afterwards, unplug the electrodes from the unit.

Step 7

If you are going to administer another treatment soon after then you can leave the electrodes on your skin in place in readiness for the follow up session.  If you have completed your treatment then remove the electrodes and wash your skin.

Step 8

Clean the electrodes with soap and water to remove any remnants of gel. Avoid using alcoholic formula to clean the electrodes as this can damage their sensitive external layer and will deplete their ability to stick to your skin. Finally, Remove the battery from the unit.  If necessary, recharge it in readiness for another treatment.

Final Note

Move the electrodes slightly for each treatment to help prevent the skin from becoming red or sore.  Check your skin for redness or tenderness. (If you find you have an allergic skin reaction to the pads then look at trying latex-free pads).  Avoid having the settings too high during treatment and try not to overuse TENS. Do not sleep or be near water while electrodes are on your skin and the TENS unit turned on!

Read More: How to Massage Your Own Foot


I hope it’s now pretty clear for you how to use a TENS unit. It’s not that hard if you’re careful and follow all the steps. If you have any questions or find any part confusing, let me know in the comment section, I’ll do my best to answer all the questions!


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