Some of you may have heard of TENS or Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy as a treatment for pain relief. Many people are looking for a drug-free method to control pain caused by a wide range of conditions, including arthritis, knee pain, or period cramps, and TENS may be the answer to their problem.

Below is everything you need to know about a TENS machine, such as its uses, benefits, and more.

What is a TENS Machine

What is a TENS machine?

The TENS machine is a small battery-operated machine that transmits small electrical currents to targeted body parts. This device has wires attached to sticky pads that you can directly place on your skin.

Once this machine is switched on, little electric shocks will be transmitted to the targeted area, which can help ease the pain of people suffering from certain types of pain.

What Does a TENS Machine Do?

TENS machines are designed to help reduce and relieve certain types of pains and muscle spasms such as pelvic pain, period pain, arthritis, knee pain, sports injuries, etc. The electrical currents from the TENS machine can minimise the pain signals to the brain and spinal cord which help relax muscles and relieve pain.

It can also increase the production of endorphins, chemicals your body releases when it feels stress or pain. It is also sometimes used by doctors for pain relief during labour.

How Effective are TENS Machines?

Though there are not plenty of quality scientific pieces of evidence that the TENS machine is a reliable method for pain relief, many healthcare professionals attest that it did help in relieving pain for some people.

It should be clear to people that using a TENS machine is not guaranteed to cure the pain, but it can only provide short-term relief for certain types of pain.

Nonetheless, TENS machines are generally safe to use, and many people actually use them, especially people who do not want to rely on painkillers when experiencing pain.

How Do TENS Machines Provide Short-Term Pain Relief?

Once you turn on the TENS machine, electrical currents are transported to the affected area of your body. These electrical impulses signal certain parts of the brain stem to inhibit incoming pain signals. It prompts the production of endorphins which are like morphine or painkiller substances that occur in the body naturally.

TENS machine provides short-term pain relief

Benefits of Using a TENS Machine

Using a TENS machine for pain relief has a lot of benefits. Learn more about the advantages of using this amazing machine below.

1. Non Invasive Therapy for Pain Relief

The TENS machine is a great pain relief option for people who are afraid of surgery or taking high doses of painkillers. It is a non-invasive method of relieving pain that can be used alone, or you can use that method while on prescriptions. The electrical stimulation does not harm any body part of any kind.

2. Portable

The TENS machine is portable and very easy to use. This machine is perfect for home use. Just simply place the pads on the affected area and let the machine do its work. It is also very easy to set up; just choose the right setting for your pain condition.

3. Relax Overworked Muscles

The TENS machine is an effective way of easing pain and reducing tightness in overworked muscles. Overworked muscles can become knots caused by irritation by a repetitive motion.

Most athletes experience this problem after training hard for a long time. A muscle knot can also occur when you are in an uncomfortable position for too long.

Using this machine is one of the best options when it comes to treating muscle spasms and knots. One study also revealed that combining stretching therapy and TENS therapy is very effective in minimising muscle hardness to give you a better range of motion.

4. Can be Used to Massage Muscles

TENS machines are also great if you want a relaxing massage. In fact, some businesses offer these machines as pain relievers and massages, and you can choose what intensity level that would suit your muscles’ needs. These machines are very easy to use, and you can even use them at home whenever you want to have a relaxing massage.

Massagers stimulate muscles to reduce fatigue

5. Stimulate Muscles to Reduce Fatigue

Fatigue can be caused by different factors such as workplace problems, stress, unhealthy lifestyle or medical conditions. The TENS machine is a great way to stimulate muscles and nerves and minimise fatigue levels significantly.

6. Reduce Pain Signals

The electrical currents coming from the TENS machine, once it is switched on, are delivered to the affected area of your body. These impulses signal the spinal cord and brain to reduce pain and relax the muscle.

7. Nerve Retraining

When your nerves are damaged, they will not be able to send or receive signals. People who have damaged nerves suffer from severe pain and difficulty in moving. Some even lose their ability to move because of the excruciating pain when trying to move their body.

TENS machines can be a great help in reducing pain because of their ability to stimulate endorphins. With the right treatments, they can help the nerve and brain patterns be retrained by the impulse that triggers the patient’s muscle.

8. Affordable

The price of buying a lifetime supply of painkillers for pain management may be very costly compared to using TENS machines. TENS machines used to be only in therapy clinics because they tended to be very expensive before. But since it is very common now, you can purchase one for your home use at a more reasonable price.

9. Enhanced Quality of Life

Having to deal with pain medications can indeed affect one’s quality of life. Start living the life you deserve without being dependent on pain medications.

Using TENS is a more practical way to relieve chronic pain. Knowing that you can manage pain without taking tons of drugs can help you keep up with your family or work better.

10. Control Over Your Treatment

One good thing about using a TENS machine is that you can control your treatment; unlike with pain medications, you can’t instantly increase or reduce the dose if it is ineffective. However, this device can provide you with various modes or settings that suit the intensity you need for your pain.

11. Effective for Different Types of Pains

Research has shown that TENS therapy is a powerful method for a wide range of conditions. It can help alleviate arthritis or joint pain, neuropathic pain, muscle pain, back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, etc.

It can also help in other conditions such as those suffering from urinary incontinence or for people with mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Caution when using a TENS machine

Caution When Using TENS Machine

Always read the manual before using any TENS machine on your own. Here are some warnings and precautions when using a TENS machine.

  • Always keep the device out of children’s reach.
  • Never place the electrode pads on irritated or damaged skin
  • Do not place the electrodes over the mouth, eyes, front of the throat, side of the neck, or internally.
  • Never use the device while you are driving or operating any machinery.
  • Do not use TENS machine when you are sleeping.
  • Do not use this machine when taking a shower or near any water.
  • Do not put the electrode pads over the carotid nerve.
  • Do not use the device over areas of decreased sensation.
  • Discontinue use if the TENS machine becomes unpleasant or ineffective.

Who Should Not Use TENS Machine

TENS machine should not be used by people who are:

  1. Pregnant. A TENS machine can be used for labour pain, but it cannot be used on the abdomen, pelvic area or acupuncture points at the ankle, hand and knee of a pregnant woman.
  2. Cancer patients. Never place electrode pads in the areas of the body where there is known cancer. It also should not be used for people with cancer history in the last five years.
  3. People with heart disease. Do not use TENS therapy on the chest if you have a heart disorder, arrhythmia or heart failure.
  4. People who have deep vein thrombosis. Using a TENS machine may increase blood circulation, triggering the risk of dislodging blood clots.

Other conditions to not use TENS machines include; people who have epilepsy, non-compliant patients or people with dementia.

Back pain

How to Use a TENS Machine

There are different brands of TENS machines, and you should follow the manual supplied with the device. Though some TENS machines can be purchased without a prescription, it is always better if you consult a health professional if you want to use it as your choice pain relief method. Here are some general points of using a TENS machine.

  • Before putting the pads on the skin, ensure that the TENS machine is turned off.
  • Try to test first the device by holding the electrode pads between your fingers and gently switch it on. You will feel a tingling sensation once the device is turned on.
  • Place the electrode pads on either side of the affected area at least 2.5cm apart. Ensure the skin area is dry and clean before placing the pads.
  • Fix it with tape to make sure the pads will stay in place in case you move around.
  • Set the pulse rate at about 100 Hz, which is generally the most effective setting or set it to the required setting given to you by your health practitioner.
  • Turn on the machine slowly until you feel a sensation. The sensation should not be uncomfortable but must be strong enough. After using it for a few minutes, the device will start to reduce sensation, which is called accommodation. Just turn the device up slightly and just leave it working. Don’t turn it up very high because it can lead to overstimulation which will worsen the pain.
  • Always turn off the device after the session and disconnect the electrodes from the machine. However, if you intend to use the machine again, you do not need to remove the pads from the skin. Just make sure that the wires are out of your way so that you can do the things you want to do before you use the TENS again for later.

Tips for Using

  • You can change the sensation flow if you change the distance between the direction of the pads and electrode pads.
  • You can place your pads in three directions (horizontal, vertical or angulated.)
  • Do not place the electrode pads over joints such as your ankles, elbows and knees.
  • Clean your skin before placing the pads. Make sure that it is free from lotion or oil.
  • Don’t use alcohol when cleaning your skin because it can dry out your skin and might give you skin irritation from the electrode pads.
  • Make sure you have extra packs of TENS lead wires, batteries and patches.
  • Drink plenty of fluids before and after using TENS machine because being hydrated can help maintain a good level of endorphins that the machine helps release.
  • It is better if you consult a doctor or a therapist before using the TENS machine so that you know how you can truly benefit from it.
TENS machine pads

Cleaning and Storage

Clean your electrode pads after each use. You can clean them by using a moist cloth. If you notice that your pads are not that sticky anymore, this may be because of dirt and oil. That’s why you must always stick them on clean and dry skin.

Do not use something that will leave residues like tissue or toilet paper when cleaning your electrode pads. Cleaning them with a little bit of water can bring back their stickiness but make sure you don’t oversoak them.

Keep the electrode pads in their packaging to avoid drying them out. Remember not to put the control unit on the same plastic as the electrode pads. Store both the control unit and electrode pads in a cool and dry place, and avoid storing them in areas with high temperatures.

Proper cleaning and storage will make your TENS machine work more efficiently.


Proper maintenance is the key if you want your TENS machine to last longer. The durability of the pads will depend on how you prepare your skin before using them and how you clean and store them after.

The battery life will depend on how frequent you use it and the level of intensity you have set. Generally, a full charge battery can last about 15 to 5 hours of stimulation under regular use. TENS units may not last a lifetime, but proper maintenance can make them last longer.

Consult with doctor

Things to Look for Before Buying

Portable TENS machines are getting popular nowadays because of how effective these devices are for pain relief. With so many brands available out there, you might be wondering what things you need to know before buying one.

Here are some things to look for before purchasing your own TENS machine.

Talk With Your Doctors First

It is better to consult with a doctor or a health practitioner first before buying a TENS machine. TENS machines are readily available in the market, and though they are safe to use for most people, they are not safe for others. The cause of the pain you are experiencing must be consulted by a doctor first. Your doctor can also give you instructions on how to use the machine properly.

The Power Level

The power potential of a TENS machine is a very important factor to consider before buying. Generally, TENS machines that are in low range prices have lower power potential than the expensive ones.

It depends on your needs, but you may want to buy something with the highest power level so that you can benefit more. If you have the money to spare, buy the one with a wide range of power choices because not every part of your body has the same sensitivity.

Battery Life

Many TENS machines run on a 9-volt battery but if you want longer battery life, choose a unit with a lithium-ion battery. This may be more expensive, but a high-quality lithium-ion battery can last you several weeks or even a month without recharging the unit.

This is also very convenient because you do not need to charge your battery every now and then compared to buying something that runs on a 9-volt battery.

Mode Options

Choose a TENS machine unit that has different types of electronic modes. The cheaper options usually have fewer electronic levels with only one or two options. Having more levels available will give you more options to select the perfect mode for your specific needs.

High-Quality Electrode Pads

Many brands sell low-quality replacement bands for a low price. Make sure that you buy high-quality electrode pads that can last longer. These may be more expensive, but they will be worth the investment. High-quality electrode pads should last you for months when maintained and stored well.

Good Customer Service

There will be many salespeople that will offer you their brands, but one of the things that you should ask about is their customer service hotline. A good product must have a good company that can provide customer service when people need to ask questions about the products.

A reputable company can give you a good warranty and would not hesitate to answer if the customer has complaints. A TENS machine is a health investment, and you have all the right to complain or raise concerns if the product does not meet your expectations.

Check With Your Health Insurance Company

With proper documentation by your doctor, your TENS machine can get covered by your insurance company. However, some insurance companies will require you to rent first a machine for one month before you can buy one.

Other companies do not also cover TENS machines used for certain types of pain, such as chronic lower back pain. Always check with your insurance company first if they can cover your machine before you decide to buy one.

Check with health providers

Features to Look For

  • You may also want to consider buying a TENS machine that will provide you with the following features:
  • Portable
  • FDA-cleared for safety and effectiveness
  • Treats multiple body pain areas
  • Easy to use
  • Syncs to a mobile app
  • Bluetooth technology
  • Dual-channel to treat two areas of pain at once

Click here to see our shortlisted picks on EMS Tens Machines combo.


A TENS machine is a non-invasive device that may help you with short-term pain relief. Remember that this machine will not cure the pain but will just help relieve muscle pain by stimulating the nerves near the pain.

TENS machines are generally safe to use, and only a few people are reported to experience side effects, unlike when using other pain relief medications. Though these devices are readily available in the market without a prescription, it is better to consult your doctor first before buying one.

1. Do TENS hurt?

Using a TENS machine should not hurt. Ensure that you set the device at a strong yet comfortable level. However, the electrical currents that a TENS machine produces may cause a tingling or prickling sensation, which may be uncomfortable to some people.

Do not use this machine on wet skin because this may cause an unpleasant electric shock. You also can’t place the electrode pads on damaged or open wounds, which may result in further irritation. Lower down the setting if you feel muscle pain when setting it on high intensity.

2. How does EMS compare to TENS?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machines are used to stimulate nerves for pain relief, while EMS or Electrical Muscle Stimulation machines are used to stimulate muscles to help strengthen them. Both machines involve the transmission of electrical impulses through electrode pads that are placed on your skin.

3. What type of pain is a TENS unit used for?

TENS units are commonly used for people with arthritis or joint pain, neuropathic pain, muscle pain, back and neck pain, fibromyalgia, period pain, pelvic pain, etc. They are also used for pain relief during labour.

4. Can a TENS machine help weight loss?

Using a TENS machine alone cannot help in weight loss. TENS are designed to focus on nerves and sensory side of our bodies, like when reducing labour pain. Nonetheless, If your TENS machine has an EMS function, then it can work with weight loss as long as it is accompanied with exercise and healthy diet.