TENS Therapy for Pain Relief & Pain Management

TENS unit pain

In most of my posts about pain relief gift ideas, I’ve always included the TENS unit as one of the top gift ideas. In fact, I’ve tried to introduce it to anyone I know from my family to my friends and co-workers who are suffering from muscle and joint pain. Unlike other posts where I’ve introduced different practical gift ideas, in this special post, I’ll focus only on the TENS device, including answering fundamental questions such as what it is, how it works, and which ones are rated as the best TENS units by pain sufferers.

The information provided is compiled by myself when I was researching and buying one for my mom to use at home in addition to the sessions she had at her chiropractor’s office. The product itself is not expensive with prices ranging from $30 – $100. However, a TENS unit is like a small medical device, so I want to be thorough before buying or introducing it to others. Also, as in many other posts, a word of disclaimer here, I’m not a physician, so what I introduce here is just from my personal research.

What is a TENS unit?

TENS or TNS or T.E.N.S stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS unit is a small device that generates electric current to stimulate the nerves for therapeutic purposes, more specifically, for nerve-related pain conditions — both acute and chronic pain. The unit is usually connected to the skin using two or more electrodes. A typical battery-operated TENS unit is able to modulate pulse width, frequency and intensity. TENS is a non-drug pain treatment.

How does a TENS unit work?

The TENS stimulates nerves in an aching and stiff joint or muscle. The pulses from the device disrupt and block the pain signal sent to the brain, which will help calm the physical pain symptoms that pain sufferers / patients are experiencing.

It’s also possible, too that a TENS unit helps the body release more endorphins, the body’s natural pain relievers, which in turn help reduce pain symptoms naturally.

The TENS unit works by placing the electrodes on the skin of the affected area of pain. Then you turn the unit on to the recommend degree of stimulation. Within a short period of time, pain symptoms should lessen or go away entirely depending on the severity of the flare-up and the effectiveness of the device.


On medium and high settings, TENS can make your muscles wiggle. The sensation shows that the unit is working and shouldn’t feel painful.

Potential disadvantages and safety warning when using TENS units?

Although TENS unit works wonders for many, there’re a couple of potential disadvantages and warnings when using over-the-counter TENS unit as a way of pain management. Nothing really serious, but as always when handling electricity and medical devices, it’s always good to read and follow the instructions provided by your physician or by the manufacturer.

  • Not everyone should use TENS: Although over-the-counter TENS unit can be bought easily for less than $100, not everyone can use it to relieve pain. Pregnant women and people with epilepsy, deep-vein thrombosis, a pacemaker, or an implanted defibrillator should consult a doctor before using TENS.
  • Select the right setting: TENS unit comes with different settings for you to select the level of pulse intensity generated by the device. Just like medicine over-the-counter or not, for it to work for you and not against you, you’ve got to take the right “dose” or the right level of intensity in this case. To avoid the possibility of risking a jolt of electricity or skin irritation, my recommendation is to start with the lowest setting and then gradually move it up to reach your comfort level. Once you’ve found your comfort level, the unit will work great in most cases.
  • Place the electrodes properly on the skin: Every TENS unit should come with clear instructions about where to place the electrodes, and what settings to choose or what button to press. Commonly, TENS electrodes shouldn’t be placed over the eyes, on the front of the neck, on broken skin areas or wounds, over a tumor, directly over the spinal column or internally.
  • Use it in combination with other therapies: TENS unit electric pulse can block the pain signal sent to your brain, but the device or the method itself doesn’t cure pain. Using a TENS device is like taking Tylenol or Advil to relieve pain (but without the medication); however, as long as the root cause is still there and not properly treated, your pain will likely come back after you stop using the device. So, it’s best to use a TENS unit in combination with other therapies to get longer and more consistent relief.

Most high rated TENS units

My selection is based on my own research and my own observation of applying TENS for my relatives, so it’s not backed by any lab experiment at all.

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