Tens machines were once only found in medical institutes because they were simply too expensive for home use. Now, these machines can be purchased and utilized for a slew of therapy situations.
From pain to nerve retraining, a Tens unit is a vital tool that can help users along their journey to wellness. Using electric impulses, there are a slew of benefits to using these tools regularly.
The following 9 points will demonstrate just why you should consider a Tens machine for your home.
1. Reduced Inflammation
Inflammation is part of the complex biological response of body tissues to harmful stimuli, such as pathogens, damaged cells or irritants, and is a protective response involving immune cells, blood vessels, and molecular mediators.
The function of inflammation is to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic cells and tissues damaged from the original insult and the inflammatory process, and initiate tissue repair. Inflammation can further lead to discomfort and pain. When muscles are inflamed, using one of these units can help greatly.
A study done by the University of Washington demonstrated that the use of proper stimulation using a Tens machine actually reduced inflammation found deep within muscle fibers.
The same study went on to show that this reduction of inflammation provided immense pain relief for:
- Pinched nerves
- Degeneration of discs
Users that suffer from immense back pain often find the relief they need to finally function normally instead of being hunched over in pain all day.
A study published in July 2017 that deals with the effects of TENS on proinflammatory cytokines (reduction of proinflammatory cytokines will lead to lower pain levels), came up with these conclusions:
“Although TENS is a widely-used method for pain management, some studies focus on the reduction of inflammation as an outcome. However, the mechanisms of action of TENS on the inflammatory process are not well understood.
TENS may reduce the inflammatory process and can be used as a physiotherapeutic treatment of pathologies marked by inflammation and pain.”
Here is what the scientists say:
“Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) reduces pain through central mechanisms involving spinal cord and brainstem sites. Since TENS acts through central mechanisms, we hypothesized that TENS will reduce chronic bilateral hyperalgesia produced by unilateral inflammation when applied either ipsilateral or contralateral to the site of muscle inflammation.
Low or high frequency TENS applied to the gastrocnemius muscle contralateral to the site of inflammation also significantly reduced mechanical hyperalgesia, both ipsilateral and contralateral to the site of inflammation.”
2. Pain Relief
The electric impulses sent to a muscle will be able to alleviate pain. From back to arm pain, a Tens unit will be able to provide immense relief naturally. This is done by the body itself.
The impulses will stimulate the release of endorphins in the body. This is the body’s natural way of relieving pain and acts as a painkiller that is void of any side effects. What is more, using TENS unit won’t interact with other medications, and it won’t make you tired & drowsy.
Did you know that TENS units might help block pain signals traveling to the brain? This will ultimately reduce or even eliminate the pain you might be suffering from. You can read more about this benefit in a study from 2009.
What is more, TENS units can be used for those suffering from Migraines. According to the scientists from the Baqiyatallah University of Medical Sciences in Iran, there is a definite relationship between severity and frequency of migraines and TENS therapy.
Here is what they concluded: “According to the results and given the significant reductions in the frequency, severity, and duration of headaches, it seems that NFB and TENS might have an effective role in reducing primary headaches of healthcare providers.”
What the scientists say about pain management:
“Experimental pain studies and clinical trials are beginning to refine parameters of stimulation to obtain the best pain relief. It seems that stimulation intensity is a critical factor for the effectiveness of TENS.
One meta-analysis was able to show the positive treatment effects of electrical stimulation for relief of chronic musculoskeletal pain, and randomized controlled trials consistently demonstrate the effectiveness of TENS for acute, emergent, and postoperative pain conditions.”
3. Easy to Use, Portable & Discreet
Tens units are advanced medical tools, but they are very easy to use at home. Users can place the included pads on the muscle that needs stimulation and the machine will do the rest.
Unlike complicated units of the past, newer units are simple to use and adjust. You merely have to change a dial or choose the right program setting to allow for correct usage.
The hardest part is actually finding the right muscle to stimulate. Here is a great chart with nice graphics regarding the ideal placement of the electrodes.
Current TENS machines are much smaller in comparison to the past. They don’t take much space, you can hide them in your backpack or a drawer in your home.
In comparison to other pain relieving devices like braces, massagers or inversion tables & chairs, they are more compact & convenient to use.
Did you know that there is a wireless option out there, that is a total game changer? It’s called iReliev Wireless TENS + EMS Therapeutic Wearable System and the reviews are phenomenal. You can wear it without anybody knowing. If you are looking for the best option right now, this is your safe bet.
4. Benefits for Muscle Relaxation, Spasms & Knots
As you may know, muscle knots are usually caused by overworking of your muscles or by some injury. There are many methods to relieve muscle pain, some more effective than others. Fortunately, TENS units can be considered to be one of the more effective options on the market.
These units help with spasms and knots via relaxation and pain alleviating effects. Knots and spasms occur due to the muscle guarding effect, that is when muscles that surround the immediate place of injury tighten to help promote healing and to help protect the injury from further harm.
TENS machines help ease pain and this reduces the surrounding tightness.
A recent study with 15 healthy young males found TENS therapy combined with stretching to be really effective in decreasing muscle hardness & pain reduction, and resulted in a greater range of motion.
“The findings in this study revealed that combined usage led to a significant decrease in muscle hardness, a significant increase in the pressure pain threshold, and a significant increase in SLR ROM when compared with stretching alone. Therefore, it is suggested that a combination of TENS and stretching is an effective method of increasing muscle flexibility.”
5. Massage Benefits
Many manufacturers are offering Tens units that act as massagers. These units will follow a different pulse pattern to provide a massage to the user.
For instance, the intensity levels may rise, lower and rise even higher to massage the muscle internally. Even standard units now come with programmable settings that allow users to essentially massage themselves with a unit.
Anyone suffering from back or elbow pain will find these massage benefits to be great. Feel free to read our article featuring the best selling TENS machines: 11 Most Popular Tens Units on the Market
6. Nerve Retraining
Nerve damage can often lead to pain or loss in movement. When the nerves are not able to receive or send signals correctly, pain or difficulty to move will follow. By using a machine, you can retrain your nerves to work properly.
Often seen being used by physical therapists, the electric impulse will trigger a user’s muscle retraining the brain and nerve patterns. This impulse is often enough to let the nerve follow the correct path to the muscle. With enough time, this may allow you to regain lost mobility due to an injury or accident.
7. Helps with Pain Management
Oftentimes, pain medications can lead to dependency or they can cost an immense amount of money. Some users have also grown an immunity to pain medications and trying to find any form of relief is almost impossible.
These machines have shown to help with pain so greatly that they have replaced certain medications altogether. However, most users do not experience this. Instead, users are typically able to reduce the amount of medication used by following a routine of electric impulse stimulation.
With medication costs, side effects and dependency issues on the rise, a Tens Machine can be a very safe and affordable mean of pain reduction.
Here is what the scientists say:
“In summary, TENS improved movement pain and fatigue, increased pain thresholds both at and outside of the site of stimulation, and increased conditioned pain modulation. Importantly, the current study examined only a single treatment of TENS.
Whether longer duration or repeated TENS applications will provide more effective and sustained pain management in fibromyalgia patients remains to be determined, ideally in a large-scale clinical trial.”
8. Quicker Rehabilitation & Reduced Fear
Pain can easily lead to a drastic change in lifestyle. With pain, fear often follows when doing the most mundane tasks. This leads to rehabilitation taking even longer, or it can lead to a person growing a phobia that causes them not to perform certain movements that may cause an increase in pain.
Through the use of these machines, users are able to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain so that they can maintain their regular level of activity.
This not only helps eliminate phobias, but it also helps a person fully maintain their normal level of strength and not have to worry about atrophy of the muscles. This equates to a much faster rehabilitation time, especially with advanced knee and back pain.
It is important to note that these electric impulses are not safe to use near your heart or on your neck, head or face. The impulse may cause severe injury if used in these areas and may even cause death in severe cases.
Never attempt to use a Tens Unit on any of the areas of the body previously mentioned, and always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
9. May Help with Headaches & Migraines
A study with a purpose to evaluate evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of transcutaneous occipital nerve stimulation (tONS) in patients with migraine found that the occipital nerve stimulation does work for reducing migraines.
Study was done with 110 patients and after 1 month trial the patients reported significant decreases in headache duration.
Another study with 57 patients found that TENS therapy reduced the intensity of pain episodes significantly in those suffering with headaches.
Yet another study reported that TENS treatment reduced amount of days suffering with a headache. There is a vast amount of evidence that using a TENS machine will significantly help with the duration and intensity of migraines.
Here is what the scientists say:
“A significant reduction in headache intensity was noted in each test group compared with the sham group; the groups undergoing tONS at different frequencies did not differ significantly. From baseline to the 1-month treatment period, the tONS group with 100 Hz and topiramate group exhibited significant decreases in headache duration.
We conclude that tONS therapy is a new promising approach for migraine prevention. It has infrequent and mild adverse events and may be effective among patients who prefer non pharmacological treatment.”
The Complete Guide to TENS Units
If you’re looking for a non-invasive, drug-free way to treat pain, a TENS unit is a smart choice. A TENS unit is a small, battery-operated machine that transmits electrical pulses to the body.
Electrodes connect the machine to your body through small self-adhesive pads. These small pads allow you to direct the electrical impulses directly to the affected area of the body.
TENS units are typically used to treat pain, including:
- Back pain
- Knee pain
- Neck pain
Although less common, these machines may be used to help treat period pain, migraines, sports injuries and early labor pain. TENS machines may be used as a singular form of treatment, or they may be combined with other treatments.
Some people are able to reduce the amount of pain medication they take after using these machines, but these results are not experienced by everyone. Before you reduce or stop taking your pain medication, consult with your doctor for guidance and advice.
While these machines may not work for everyone, most patients reduce or eliminate their pain after using a TENS machine. Many people are able to resume their normal daily activities quicker than they would using conventional forms of pain therapy.
Because these machines are small, lightweight and portable, they can be used at work or on the go. The pads are small and discreet, so they can easily be hidden underneath clothing. The unit itself is small enough to fit in your pocket.
At one time, portable TENS units were only available with a prescription and were very expensive. Today, you can purchase machines over the counter, but some machines are still pricey.
How Does a TENS Unit Work?
TENS units are believed to work in two different ways, depending on how high you set the pulse rate.
On the normal setting (90-130 Hz), the electrical impulses generated by the unit are believed to block the pain messages being sent to the brain. This belief is based on the “gate theory.”
The Gate Theory
This theory suggests that the central nervous system has a gate mechanism built into it. When the gate is open, pain signals are able to pass through to the brain and we feel pain as a result. If the gate is closed, the pain messages are effectively blocked and we do not feel any pain.
The impulses from the TENS machine actually stimulate non-pain-carrying nerves, effectively closing the “gate.” These signals move more quickly than the slower pain signals.
The brain becomes preoccupied with the quick impulses transmitted by the TENS machine and pain signals are unable to make their way through. This is why most people experience temporary pain relief when they rub or massage the painful area.
Stimulating Endorphin Production
On a lower setting (2-5 Hz), the pulse stimulates the body just enough to start producing endorphins. Endorphins are like your body’s own natural form of morphine. They block pain signals to provide you with some relief.
While most TENS units are basic in nature, you can also purchase more sophisticated, dual channel units. These emit a biphasic waveform and come with a range of different features that include:
- Controls that allow you to select different frequencies
- A timer
- A convenient mode selector
- Separate output controls to multiple leads
- Pulse width adjustments
How to Use a TENS Unit to Relieve Muscle & Joint Pain
Every TENS unit will come with its own set of instructions that you need to read and follow carefully. While it is possible to purchase a unit online or over the counter, you should consult with your physician or physiologist before using a TENS machine.
Below is basic guide to using a TENS unit, but we must stress the importance of reading and following your machine’s individual instructions carefully.
- Clean the areas of the skin where the electrodes will be placed with rubbing alcohol. Make sure that the skin is dry before using the machine.
- Place a thin layer of gel onto the bottom of each electrode pad. This gel will help the signal get to the nerves that are underneath your skin.
- Attach the self-adhesive pads to either side of the affected area. The pads should be at least one inch apart. Make sure that the machine is turned off before positioning the adhesive pads.
- The machine will have a dial that allows you to control the strength of the electrical pulses. Before turning on the unit, adjust the dial so that the machine is on a low setting.
- When you turn the machine on, you may feel a slight tingling sensation. If need be, you can gradually increase the strength of the impulses until you feel a strong but comfortable sensation. Reduce the strength if you feel any discomfort or pain.
- Turn the TENS unit off once your session is complete. Remove the adhesive pads.
A typical session lasts 15-20 minutes, and you can use your machine several times per day.
To maximize the benefits of a TENS unit, you need to make sure that you place the electrodes in the right place. Otherwise, the pain may not be lessened, or it may make the pain even worse. If you’re still unsure of where to place the pads, consult with your doctor.
Note: Placing the electrodes on certain areas of the body can be unsafe and potentially dangerous. Please see the Safety Precautions section below for more information.
Possible Side Effects
Most people use TENS machines without experiencing any side effects. The most common side effect is not related to the machine itself, but the self-adhesive pads.
Some users experience skin reactions because of the pads. In most cases, this can be avoided or remedied by ensuring that you do not place the pads in the same exact location with each use.
If the pulse is too high or you use the TENS machine too often, the stimulation can cause pain or muscle twitching.
Aside from these two minor side effects, most users are able to use the unit safely and without any adverse reactions. However, there are certain individuals that should not use a TENS unit (see the section below for details).
Although TENS machines are generally safe, there are some individuals who should not use them.
Do Not Use a TENS Machine If:
- You are pregnant – unless specifically advised by your doctor during labor
- You have epilepsy
- You have heart disease
- You have a pacemaker
- The cause of your pain is unknown or not diagnosed
Never use a TENS unit while driving or operating heavy machinery. Never use the unit in or near a bathtub or water.
While you can place the electrodes on most areas of the body, there are some areas that are unsafe:
- The side or the front of your neck
- Your eyes or your mouth
- Your heart
- Your temples
- Areas of reduced sensation
- Broken or damaged skin
- Varicose veins
Some TENS units, particularly those purchased from unreliable sources, may offer pad placement guides that suggest placing the electrodes on your neck or chest area. Never place the electrodes on any of the areas listed above. Consult with your physiologist or physician if you have questions about where to place the electrodes.
2019 Best Selling TENS Units
Last update on 2021-10-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
- TENS Unit Pad Placement: 10 Tips for Effective Use
- 7 Most Popular Tens Units on the Market
- 14 Interesting Uses of TENS Units + How To Use & Side Effects
- How Long Do You Wear Your Tens Unit?
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Unit
- TENS Unit for Pain Management & EMS for Muscle Rehab – Ask Doctor Jo
References & Studies
- Life Extension: Chronic Pain Overview
- The University of Iowa Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Science Department: Using TENS for Pain Control – the State of the Evidence
- Effects of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) on Proinflammatory Cytokines: Protocol for Systematic Review
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Reduces Chronic Hyperalgesia Induced by Muscle Inflammation
- Medscape: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation – An Overview
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) A Possible Aid for Pain Relief in Developing Countries?
- Comparison of Neurofeedback and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Efficacy on Treatment of Primary Headaches: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial
- Effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Treatment of Hyperalgesia and Pain
- Athletico: What Is A ‘Muscle Knot’ And How To Treat It
- The Combined Effects of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) and Stretching on Muscle Hardness and Pressure Pain Threshold
- Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Reduces Pain, Fatigue, and Hyperalgesia While Restoring Central Inhibition in Primary Fibromyalgia
- Migraine Prevention Using Different Frequencies of Transcutaneous Occipital Nerve Stimulation: A Randomized Controlled Trial
- Non-invasive Transcutaneous Supraorbital Neurostimulation (tSNS) Using Cefaly® Device in Prevention of Primary Headaches
- Clinical Experience with Transcutaneous Supraorbital Nerve Stimulation in Patients with Refractory Migraine or with Migraine and Intolerance to Topiramate
Peter writes for the Posturebly magazine since it’s start in 2014. His main passions are helping people improve their health, reviewing products & sharing his thoughts on improving the quality of life. His tips helped over 1,200,000 readers to date.
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