Table of Contents
- 1. Using the TENS for Shoulder Pain
- 2. Using the TENS for Knee Pain
- 3. Using the TENS for Foot Pain
- 4. Using the TENS for Plantar Fasciitis Pain
- 5. Using the TENS for Fibromyalgia Pain
- 6. Using the TENS for Lower Back Pain
- 7. Places Not to Put Your Electrode Pads
- 8. Where to Place Pads
- 9. Caring for Electrode Pads, Use, and Where to Place
- 10. Storage and Constant Use of TENS
- 11. How Often and How Long to Use Your TENS Unit
- 12. Many TENS Models and Modes
- 13. Electrode Pads Not Sticking
- 14. Testing and Cleaning the TENS Unit
- 15. Care Considerations for Use
- Final Thoughts
The TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) is a small device about the size of a cell phone for relieving pain in most areas of your body. Some units can be purchased over-the-counter and others require a prescription from a doctor. These marvelous small devices are good to use for easing muscle pain, sciatica, fibromyalgia, a chronic widespread muscle pain, depression, and fatigue syndrome. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the TENS to help you lessen pain in your arms, hips, lower back, and legs. The TENS sends low-energy electrical current through your skin to the muscles and nerves that cause the muscles to contract with no thought from you. The involuntary contractions relieve pain and discomfort in a relatively short time.
Discussed here first will be instructions for use followed by attaching electrodes, care, cleaning, and other important information for your better understanding for the TENS units to have you feeling better soon.
1. Using the TENS for Shoulder Pain
The rotator cuff is a cluster of tendons that go from the muscles starting at the shoulder blade in the back that keeps the upper arm bone (humerus) in its socket for the best range of motion of all body joints. Placement of the electrodes is important. Put a 2×2 pad on the upper arm front, one at the back of the shoulder (not the bone), one above the bone, and one down the front of the arm. Never put electrodes on the bone because there is little fluid there to conduct electricity. Using a TENS unit can speed up any injury to this area. If you have more than 4 electrodes, put them on the side and top of the shoulder blade as well.
2. Using the TENS for Knee Pain
If you suffer from osteoarthritis, sometimes called wear-and-tear arthritis, it can be helped by strengthening the muscles around the joints involved around the knee. Many people don’t exercise because they think this will make the condition worse. By strengthening the quads (front thigh muscles), you will experience less pain. The TENS stimulation might provide relief from this type pain in older adults. Place one electrode above the knee, one below and one to each side of the knee.
3. Using the TENS for Foot Pain
We were not designed to wear shoes! We were made to go bare foot putting our feet into dirt and sand that transfer pressure from foot impact to other muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints. This creates a massaging action naturally and allows us to have great balance and circulation. When you have tired, sore, burning, or swollen feet and ankles at the end of a hard day using your feet, a good massage would be great, but if you cannot have that, a TENS unit will do it for you.
Placing the electrodes over the lower calf muscle in the back and on top with one electrode on the foot front above the toes or 4 electrodes are all placed in a square design on the top of the foot. For your ankle pain, place 2 electrodes on the top surface of the foot, one on the front of the ankle joint and one on the outside of the ankle, above the bony part that sticks out on the right side.
The TENS sends low energy electrical current through your skin to the muscles and nerves that cause the muscles to contract with no thought from you. The involuntary contractions relieve pain and discomfort. Soon you will have relief from what is causing aches and pain.
4. Using the TENS for Plantar Fasciitis Pain
This is the most painful foot pain there is! I have had it! Don’t let the pain stop you in your tracks. There are exercises to do that will heal the area and a chiropractor can use the TENS showing you how to place the electrode pads on your feet. Then you can purchase your own TENS eliminating the expense of visiting the chiropractor. Plantar Fasciitis is a horrible pain from inflammation of the flat ligament the plantar fascia (fascia means front) tissue that supports the arch on the foot bottom. It attaches to the heel bone then to the metatarsals, the bones between each toe, and the middle foot bones. It is quite a work of nature. Therefore, know that this band stretches like a rubber band from your heel to around the ball of your foot. The TENS unit is beneficial in healing this huge tendon. Your instructions and doctor can show you the correct placement for the electrodes.
5. Using the TENS for Fibromyalgia Pain
Fibromyalgia is sometimes difficult to diagnose. It causes joint and muscle pain in many body areas to include depression and fatigue. It can be inherited; it can be due to mental and physical stress and some infections. There is no precise cause for fibromyalgia. There may be an overabundance of neurotransmitters in the brain leading to intensified pain sensitivity.
The TENS units are safe, non-invasive, and have provided relief to those suffering from fibromyalgia. Consult with your doctor about your condition and using TENS. By placing the pads at the pain location, the electrical impulses penetrate your skin fooling the pain receptors in the brain. This stimulation releases endorphins, a natural painkiller, to help you cope better and have a good night’s sleep without feeling restless. TENS is not a cure for fibromyalgia but will give you enough relief to enjoy life more. It is better to use than narcotics with no side effects and might be just the thing for the whole body condition of fibromyalgia.
6. Using the TENS for Lower Back Pain
It is not an exact science, and you will learn what gives you relief in your cervical (top spine), thoracic, and lumbar, between the diaphragm and the sacrum regions. Spinal pain can happen from straining your muscles, spraining picking up heavy items, using your back and not using leg muscles when you should, degenerating discs and the aging process of spinal stenosis.
For radiating pain, place the electrodes near the spine but not on the bone on one or both sides. Check with your doctor and the instructions with your TENS unit.
Useful article: How to Place Electrodes for a Tens Unit
7. Places Not to Put Your Electrode Pads
- Do not place over your heart or eyes.
- Do not place over open cuts or partially healed scars.
- Never place on joints such as ankles, knees, and elbows.
- Never use a damaged electrode pad or wire.
- Never use damp or wet pads.
8. Where to Place Pads
- From your neck to your lower thigh, place the pads in a vertical row.
- Place pads at the start of the pain area to the end area of pain.
- For the lower back, place an electrode of each side of the pain or in a circle around the area.
- For a joint, place the electrode pad on the muscles outside the area of the bending joint.
- For shoulder pain the width of your back, place the electrodes on the right and left sides of your spine.
- Check with your physiotherapist for help with placing the pads and setting the levels for intensity specifically for you and your condition.
- Place the electrodes at least an inch apart in a square or “X” pattern for best results.
There is not really a right or wrong way for placing your electrode pads. Be sure to follow the instructions about this in your User’s Manual. Where the current travels around the pads area, you should find a measure of relief for your pain.
All TENS units should have a User’s Manual enclosed that gives all-inclusive and thorough details for placement of the electrode pads. Your chiropractor or doctor can tell you where to place the pads based upon your complaints and conditions. A licensed physiotherapist is a good person to also contact.
9. Caring for Electrode Pads, Use, and Where to Place
Most TENS units come with pre-gelled pads that will stick to your skin. If not, you must put a thin amount of gel on the pad bottom. This gel helps the signal get to your nerve endings.
Place the pads on your body around the pain region or as your instruction book shows you. Attach to the connectors and turn your unit on. If the pads do not stick effectively, add a piece of medical adhesive tape.
Adjust the settings on the device to your preferred methods. You will feel a mild tingling, so set that intensity level to where it is comfortable for you. You can keep the electrodes on your skin if you plan another treatment soon. If not using again, remove, turn the unit off, and wash your skin with soap and water. To remove the gel, it will come off easily with warm water and soap, such as dish detergent. Never use alcohol, peroxide, or vinegar because they can eat through the rubber inside the electrode pad. Be sure to never use a damaged electrode or its wire.
10. Storage and Constant Use of TENS
After you have used your TENS device for a period of time, the electrode pads will wear out and need to be replaced. It does not mean the TENS device is bad; it simply means it’s time for new pads, so don’t trash your unit. When you are careful about cleaning the pads after their use and store safely away, they should last a considerable amount of time. Put it safely away means the unit will not be stepped or sat on, fall, nor have things placed on it. No bumping and a place in a drawer or closet are perfect until your next treatment.
11. How Often and How Long to Use Your TENS Unit
The amount of usage depends on you, what your doctor advises, and the instructions that came with your unit. Use your unit for at least 30 minutes at a time beginning by using it 3 to 4 times each day. You can build up to using the unit as often as you like. Time out breaks are good and then you can get back to it again.
You can use TENS for chronic pain, sciatica, fibromyalgia, and many other muscle and nerve pains. Pregnant women use TENS during labor to rid some of the pain. Some of dentists use the TENS during painful methods of treatment such as TMJ. If you are pregnant, always consult with your doctor before using a TENS unit due to risks to your body and baby. You do not want any untimely events happening.
12. Many TENS Models and Modes
The modes for operation are usually three in most units in today’s marketplace. Some units are pre-programmed and others you can program yourself.
- Standard Mode—is typically 50 to 200Hz with the pulse with of 200μS (microsiemens) for quick pain relief. (For you electrical savvy folks, one siemens is equal to the reciprocal of one Ohm.) It’s a good thing.
- Burst Mode—will provide you with a comparable result to acupuncture. The unit will emit short pulsating bursts that will provide you with pain relief for a longer time.
- Modulation Mode—has a pulse width that is continually cycling almost the same as the burst method but it feels like a massage.
You might not find the perfect solution the first few times. Investigate with some trial and error and see what feels best. Do this in an organized way and make some notes for your reference for the next time.
13. Electrode Pads Not Sticking
There are only a few reasons the pads do not stick.
- You have skin remains (dead, dry skin), lotions, oils and creams, stuck on hair and lint.
- Adhesive has dried out.
- Too much gel with or without water, depending on manufacturer’s instructions.
To remediate the problem, first always purchase replacement pads of a superior quality, not the cheap inferior ones.
Always clean your skin with plain soap and water to remove sweat, oils, and dirt. Do not apply anything to your skin while using the TENS. Alcohol will ruin the rubber in the pads; creams will prevent the electrodes from sticking.
For reusing existing electrode pads and for new pads, be sure the gel is sticky. New pads should stay sticky a long time if you take care of them properly. To clean the pads, use a cloth (not paper towels—they stick). Wipe the area gently and you can use an old soft toothbrush to fleck the debris away that will allow the pads to remain sticky. You can always purchase gel and reapply it.
14. Testing and Cleaning the TENS Unit
- Always unplug the unit when it’s not in use.
- Remove the batteries before cleaning.
- Let the batteries recharge while you are cleaning.
- Clean your skin and the electrode pads with gentle soap and water after each treatment. A sudsy dish detergent with warm water will work well with the pads, then rinse.
- Replace the batteries.
15. Care Considerations for Use
- Never get into a bathtub, shower, or swimming pool with your TENS unit attached to your body.
- Do not put the TENS on your head or face especially if you have seizures.
- If you feel your muscles twitch, lower the settings on your TENS unit.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions that came with your TENS unit.
- Check with your doctor if you are not sure the TENS is safe for you.
- People with pacemakers, chronic numbness, and epilepsy should not use TENS.
- Do not use when sleeping at night.
- Do not place on the left side next to your heart.
- Do not put on the side or front of your neck where the major arteries, such as the carotid are located.
- Never put on varicose veins, broken skin, or a scar that’s healing.
- Never place on an area of the skin that feels numb.
- Not a good idea to use when driving—it’s a distraction that could harm you or others.
- Never use with children unless advised by a doctor.
- Never use when pregnant without the consent of a doctor.
- Never use if allergic to the electrodes, the pad materials, the gel or adhesive straps.
- Never use on eczema.
- People with circulation issues need to consult their doctor.
- Check with your doctor for applying to the upper trunk or neck areas.
Use the TENS unit in conjunction with other holistic methods such as meditating, exercising, and walking. Use other techniques for pain relief to eliminate pain-killing medications. If you are diabetic with neuropathy pain in your feet, be sure to consult your doctor. Neuropathy is a very different type nerve pain to deal with.
We hope this has answered some of your questions for using a TENS unit in the privacy of your home where you will be comfortable. Always follow the instructions included with your TENS device and consult your doctor with any adverse problems.