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How to Use a TENS Unit for Pain Relief

In this short post I will discuss the use of a TENS unit for pain relief.

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.

Transcutaneous means on the surface of the skin.

A TENS unit differs greatly compared to a traditional electrical muscle stimulation machine or EMS that you may see in your chiropractors office. Because a TENS unit is directed at the surface of the skin, you shouldn't feel any muscular contractions as you might with say EMS. If you do experience muscle contraction with a TENS, unit it is likely set too high or it is over an area with very little fat.

So what does a TENS unit do?

Basically, the current is following the pain pathway back to the brain. Believe it or not the perception of pain goes all the way back to the brain. A TENS unit is simply interrupting that pathway so you don't "perceive" the pain. This can be very useful so that it allows you to perform your rehabilitative exercises without pain or simply to function at home or at work.

How does one set up the pads?

The pads operate on a positive and negative current and to best isolate the area of concern you would set the pads up with the currents opposite of each other and where X marks the spot or in a criss cross fashion when using four pads. If only using two pads, on a smaller area such as for the elbow you would simply place them opposite of eachother.

How long do I use the TENS?

generally speaking, 30-60 minutes. It is not recommenced to run a TENS unit for hours on end.


Symptomatic pain relief.


Affordable $30-$100



Symptomatic pain relief


Do not use TENS around the heart

Do not use TENS if you have any implanted electrical devices or have been diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia,

Do not use TENS over any

Do not use over your brain (scalp),

Do not use on front of the neck over the carotid arteries,

Do not use TENS while pregnant, specifically around stomach.

Do not use TENS for pain if you don't know the cause of pain (See doctor).

Do not use TENS over any open sores, lesions, wounds, or tumors.


I personally don't use or sell TENS units in my practice and as mentioned above they are good for symptomatic relief without really getting to the cause of the pain. But they can be a useful and an affordable tool to help manage your pain. As always please consult your doctor before using a TENS and if you have any questions.

Have a wonderful week,

Dr. Lucas Marchand

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