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Using A TENS Machine

Using A TENS Machine
Using A TENS Machine

How Do You Use A TENS Machine?

  • When using TENS the tingling or prickling sensation should be strong but comfortable.
  • Accommodation (where your body adapts to the tingling sensation and it becomes less apparent at the same intensity setting) to TENS occurs with continuous application, this is combated by simply periodically increasing the intensity as desired or using the cyclical mode on the unit.
  • Typically you should start with the intensity settings low and increase as time goes on or as the pain becomes stronger.
  • Some units are also fitted with a “boost” button which works nicely when pressed at the peak of the contraction if using during child birth/contractions.

On What Areas Of Your Body Can You Use A TENS Machine?

  • TENS machines will generally come with instructions but it should be noted here that patches should not be applied over the heart area since the machine is generating electrical pulses. Or over the throat area as it can create a muscle contraction and this could interfere with breathing.
  • Other than the areas stated above typically the application of the pads are at the site of pain.
  • Certain areas of skin are quite sensitive to the prickling sensation delivered, for example the sides of your trunk, inner thighs and the palms of your hands. Using in these or similar areas I would normally recommend using relatively low intensity settings.

Advantages Of A TENS Machine As A Pain Relief Option

  • The units are portable and the treatment is non-invasive and safe.
  • It is very easy to use and you can use it for as long or often as you want.
  • You can wear it on the move by just putting the machine into your pocket or clipping it onto your belt as you move about.
  • TENS machines are relatively cheap. There are many different units available for hire or purchase from hospitals, physio clinics or purchasing online. Typically an entry level TENS machine that “does the job” can be purchased for under $100.

Disadvantages Of A TENS Machine?

  • TENS doesn’t give strong pain relief and typically works more as a distraction than abolishing discomfort.
  • Some people do not tolerate the sensation and can not adjust the intensity high enough to provide any pain relief before finding the stimulation itself uncomfortable.
  • Some individuals develop an allergy to the adhesive in the pads, or with the tapes used to hold non adhesive pads in place.
  • You can not use TENS underwater, so obviously if someone was planning on using this form of pain relief during labour they could not use it when submerged during a water birth.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products mentioned. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on Using A TENS Machine should consult his or her general practitioner, physiotherapist or otherwise appropriately skilled practitioner.

Hayden Latimer is the founder of and principle physiotherapist at Sydney Physio Clinic. Since graduating from Otago University, Dunedin, New Zealand he’s gained wide experience practicing across the globe for over 15 years and is now extremely knowledgeable in helping people reduce discomfort and restore function and mobility.


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