TENS Machine

How To Set Up A TENS Unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) At Home For Pain Relief

What is a TENS Unit?

ENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve stimulation. Electrode pads attached to the TENS Unit are placed in certain parts of the body to help relieve pain.

How do TENS Help?

They work by stimulating nerve fibers in our body, affecting nerves from the body, spinal cord and brain. The stimulation can help decrease the way we feel pain, by releasing endorphins as well as modulating the perception of pain.

TENS units are generally safe to use, and can be purchased online or from your medical provider. In our Physiotherapy practice, we would recommend them for our clients and help them set up their TENS unit for use at home.

How to set up a TENS Unit?

In our practice and for simplicity, there are generally 3 settings that you need to adjust. This will depend on what therapeutic benefits you are trying to achieve.


How To Set Up TENS Machine

Depending on the TENS unit, you may find various modes of stimulation.

Common modes include Modulated (M), Burst (B) and Constant (C)
In some units the setting Constant is Normal (N).

Set your unit to Constant or Normal. This will provide a consistent stimulation of electrical current.


Setting Up TENS Unit

Pulse width is the measure of the time between the leading and trailing edges of a single pulse of energy.

This is measured in microseconds, or a millionth of a second. The higher the pulse width, the longer time you will receive the pulse.

You may not feel the difference of this setting, but the right setting can stimulate the body’s nervous system properly.


How To Use TENS Unit

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time.

In this case, the number of stimulating pulse in one second.

Higher frequencies of the electrical current will feel like a buzz, whereas lower frequencies will feel like a distinguishable tap tap tap sensation.

You may set the TENS unit to one of these methods depending on the type of pain (acute/chronic)


Your mode should be in normal (or N), or Continuous or C.

Set your Pulse width to 100 microseconds and Frequency to 50 Hertz

Place the pads on the region where you experience pain for 30 minutes at a time. You may repeat this multiple times in a day. Turn the intensity up to where it feels strong but comfortable, you may notice your muscles will contract. Research has shown that it works best at this amplitude.


The second setting is using the TENS setting that mimics acupuncture without the needles. With the pads placed on specific nerve points, it can help release endorphins. This helps to relieve pain, promote relaxation and help you reach a state of balance.

Your mode should be on Normal or N, or Constant or C.

Set the pulse width to 200 microseconds and Frequency to 4 Hertz.

This works best when the pads are placed on acupuncture points. In some cases, you may be able to place it on the site of your pain. Your medical provider will advise you where you can put this. You can use this up to 30 minutes at a time, a few times per day.

Contact our Burnaby Physiotherapists if you have any questions!

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