How to use a TENS machine?

Have you read the instruction manual from top to bottom and still have no clue how to use a TENS machine? If so, don’t feel bad because you’re not alone; it’s a more common occurrence than you might guess. Operating one of these devices is actually fairly simple, once you strip away all of the technical details. On the other hand, it’s not just plug-and-play either; it’s very important to understand the warnings and precautions for safety’s sake. Above all, your condition has to be properly diagnosed by a licensed physician, who must in turn prescribe the application of electrotherapy for the management of your symptoms. 

Simply put, the TENS unit is an emitter and your skin is the receptor. Thus, what you need to do first is prepare the receptor; that is, clean, rinse and dry the area of the body to be treated. You can use your run-of-the-mill water and soap, or a special skin preparation, if your doctor has indicated you to use one. The skin must be not only clean but also in good conditions. Imagine that the TENS device is a helicopter; you wouldn’t try to land it on rocky, bumpy terrain, would you? Likewise, TENS therapy should not be applied over open wounds, cuts, irritations, cracks, etc. There are other areas where electrotherapy should never be administered under any circumstances, including the front and sides of the neck, over the eyes, internally, or any positions in which current would flow through the head.

If the TENS unit is the emitter and the skin the receptor, the lead wires and electrodes are the channels between one and the other. Take the lead wires and hook their pin connectors to the electrode pad – if they are color coded (usually read and black), make sure the colors match – and connect the plug end to the socket(s) on top of the unit. Most modern TENS devices are dual channel, meaning that one set of two electrodes may be connected to each channel. That allows you to control either a single pair of electrodes or two pairs at the same time; moreover, it enables you to treat to different areas at the same time, or one larger area (using all four electrodes together). If we have been doing this how to use a TENS machine correctly, you haven’t even turned the unit on yet.
If you’re not using pre-gelled or self-adhesive electrodes, you’ll want to spread a thin film of conductive gel over the pads. You want the electrodes to stick firmly to your skin; a sticky pad means full contact, which means a better flow of current through the skin. Electrode placement is a tricky thing; it all depends on the source of pain and the part of the body to be treated. Furthermore, every patient is different and needs to find the arrangement that suits them better, which is not necessarily the one that works better for any other individual. You have to work together with your doctor to determine which placement provides the most relief (an extra pair of hands is always welcome, especially for those hard to reach spots). Just make sure to apply the electrodes from the center outward, without stretching the skin to avoid ‘pulling stress,’ and replace them as soon as they start losing adherence. 
Depending on the model, you use either dials or buttons to operate the TENS unit. Like electrode placement, the level of intensity and the length of therapy vary from one person to the next. Most devices feature controls to manipulate all those specifications, and some even come with a safety amplitude cap that preserves the settings for accidental changes. TENS machines allow for many possible combinations, and that’s where much of the confusion stems from. But since your doctor is the one who should prescribe the settings for you to use, why not simply ask him to preset the unit and lock the safety cap on? If the treatment is not effective or is uncomfortable, you can tell your physician and he can always readjust the settings. As much as TENS units become increasing portable and lightweight, and in general achieve more of a DIY dimension, a certified healthcare provider will always remain the authority on how to use a TENS machine.   

Related Read: Why should I use the TENS 7000?