High Quality Electrode Advantages & Placement Recommendations for TENS Units

If you experience muscle pain, it’s likely that your pain is the result of an injury, a strain, or overuse.

Many chronic pain sufferers have discovered TENS Unit Therapy to be a drug-free, non-invasive approach to find relief from their muscle pain in the hips, legs, lower back, and arms.

What is a TENS Unit?

TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) uses a mild electric current, typically ranging from about 10 Hz to 50 Hz., to send pulses through the skin via small electrodes.

These low-voltage pulses stimulate the body’s natural pain inhibitors to release endorphins that help block the area's ability to send pain signals to the brain.

The TENS Unit is a small, battery-operated, device that generates these electrical pulses.

TENS Units have adjustable controls the voltage that allows the user to raise or lower the intensity of the electrical stimulation and duration of the pulse, as they desire.

The electrodes, which have an adhesive backing to keep them attached. are placed on the specific area of the user’s body depending on the physical location of the pain. The electric pulses create a massaging sensation that reduces the user’s perception of the pain.

T.E.N.S. units are available without a prescription and when used as directed, provides a non-invasive, drug-free method of pain management.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is often used to ease the pain of those suffering from a myriad of conditions, including:

  • Arthritis or other joint pain/injuries
  • Back and neck pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Muscle pain
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Diabetic neuropathy pain
  • Multiple sclerosis

Other common uses for TENS treatment include: acute and chronic pain, surgical pain, menstrual cramps, labor, and delivery, migraine and tension headaches, acute pain from sports or work injuries, chronic tendentious and bursitis pain, cancer-related pain, and wound healing.

Other benefits of electrotherapy that have been noted include a more rapid healing, improved circulation, increased muscle tone, increased strength, improved range of movement, and an increase in both the speed and strength of muscle contractions.

blue diagram of a person with green pain points listed

Numerous study results have been posted by organizations ranging from The National Library of Medicine, & Medical News Today, to the Korean Journal of Pain, & the American Physical Therapy Association confirming that TENS units can offer a better quality of life for people living with chronic pain.

This is why so many medical professionals recommend TENS therapy to patients who live with chronic pain. TENS therapy works best when used for at least 15 minutes, and while active (studies have shown it to be less effective when sitting, lying, or resting.)

The therapy is painless, though many users report a pleasant tingling sensation and/or muscle twitching. Even on the highest settings, though it may cause some slight discomfort, it’s still perfectly safe.

Medical News Today states that people who use TENS therapy for pain relief may be able to reduce the amount of pain medications they’re taking, reducing the risk of addictions or adverse side effects.

Always consult your physician before making any changes in medication usage, or medical plans.

There are a few circumstances in which TENS therapy is not recommended.

These include:

  • Women who are pregnant: Pregnant women should avoid using TENS in the abdominal and pelvic areas as the effect of TENS on fetuses is still unknown.
  • People suffering from epilepsy: Applying electrodes to the head or neck of epilepsy patients can lead to seizures.
  • People with heart problems.
  • Deep vein thrombosis or thrombophlebitis. TENS therapy may increase blood circulation, leading to an increased risk of dislodging a blood clot.
  • Anyone with a pacemaker, infusion pump, defibrillator, or any kind of electrical or metal implant.

TENS units are conveniently small (about the size of a small cell phone), portable, and relatively discrete. You can keep a one in your pocket, purse, or even clipped to your belt and have immediate access to pain relief.

You can use a TENS unit throughout the day for as long as you like, though 15 minutes is usually the minimum suggested usage. It's not recommended to use while driving, operating machinery, or (for obvious reasons) in the bath or shower.

Types & Sizes of Electrodes Available

Electrodes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to best fit the specific needs of pain sufferers and can be used on any body part that the user needs.

For example, two of the smaller TENS patches may be used on either side of the spine at the back of the neck for neck pain, while larger patches might be used for muscular pain in the back or upper legs.

Here are some of the current sizes/shapes available:

  • 2 x 2” square electrodes

These are the most common size/shape of electrodes.

Most Tens Devices have 2 output wires that attach to two self-adhesive electrodes each. This means that 4 electrodes can be placed on the body at the same time.

Use on areas such as the neck, shoulders, knees, thighs, hips, and sciatica pain, upper back pain, or pain related to a herniated disk.

  • 2” x 2” Round electrodes

These are ideal for smaller areas of pain like the neck, wrists, elbow pain, cervical pain, and ankles. Also good for areas of pain related to carpal tunnel syndrome, or migraine headaches.

white electrode pad disk

  • 2” x 4” Oval electrode

Often used for hip pain, foot pain, or pelvic pain.

four electrode pad disks

  • 2” x 3.5” Rectangle electrode

Works wells for areas like lower back, knees, thighs, and forearms.

four pain therapy massage patches on the back of a woman's back

  • 3” x 5” Rectangle Ultra MicroBlock Antimicrobial Electodes

Good for massage or muscle therapy, menstrual cramps, or upper/lower back pain. MicroBlock antimicrobial electrodes help kill and inhibit the growth of common disease-causing bacteria on and around the zone of inhibition of the electrode surface.

two patches for microblocking with the package

  • 4” x 6” Butterfly electrode

These electrodes provide the perfect coverage for larger areas such as the lower back and are flexible enough to keep up with your active lifestyle.

a large electrode pad with the packaging behind it

  • 7” x 3” Butterfly medium electrode

Ideal for lower back pain, Upper back pain, shoulders, neck, thighs, and knee area pain.

  • 8” x 3.5” Butterfly Large electrode

Best for larger areas like the upper and lower back, shoulders, neck, thighs, or knee area pain.

Electrode Placement

Proper placement of the electrodes is vital for optimizing the effectiveness of TENS therapy. Always be sure that the machine is powered off until all of the electrodes are in place. Here are some tips for placement:

  • If the pain extends across a large area of your body like the low back to just above the back of the knee (frequently a symptom of sciatica), Affix one of the electrodes vertically at the top of the pain and the other electrode vertically at the bottom of the pain area.
  • If the pain is more focused over a smaller area, like your calf, affix the electrodes in parallel on either side of the pain area.
  • If the pain overlaps a joint, such as your elbow, affix each electrode on the muscle or soft tissue just above and below the joint in a horizontal and parallel direction.
  • If the pain area extends down your back, affix the electrodes to the left and right side of your spine vertically. If pain extends out even further above or below the shoulder area, the electrodes can be angled to cover more of the pain area.

Note: The electrodes should never touch and should be placed at least 1 inch apart. As the distance between the two electrodes increases the effectiveness decreases.

For more information, please reference our electrodes placement chart, here.

History of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

The use of electrical nerve stimulation for pain relief has been around almost as long as there’s been medicine and people practicing it.

Ancient Roman physicians as far back as 60 A.D. proposed symptomatic relief for pain suffers by having them stand on ocean-dwelling “electric fish” at the seashore.

Many Asian cultures encouraged the use of electric eels as pain therapy, as well.

This was the very beginning of electrical nerve stimulation as a medical technique.

With the birth of the electrical age in the 18th century, the use of devices to deliver electrostatic exposures grew at an exponential rate. Electrical stimulation therapy was believed to treat everything from headaches to cancer. Benjamin Franklin himself became a supporter of the practice.

The first modern, patient-wearable TENS was patented in the United States in 1974.

Use the latest in transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, as pain control technology to improve blood flow and bring relief to chronic pain. TENS can help break the cycle of chronic pain, speed up the normal healing process, and get you back in control of your life.

You don’t have to feel powerless anymore!