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How to Use a TENS Unit for Pain Relief – Ask Doctor Jo

How to Use a TENS Unit for Pain Relief – Ask Doctor Jo

Hey everybody it’s Doctor Jo, and today
I’m going to show you how to use a TENS unit for pain relief. so let’s get
started. So what does TENS stand for you might ask? it’s transcutaneous electrical nerve
stimulation. well what does that mean? well basically transcutaneous means on
the surface of the skin, and electrical nerve stimulation is making the nerve
stimulated through some kind of stimulation being electric stimulation
or sometimes this vibration things like that, but what this is different from
like an EMS unit or electrical muscle stimulation is this gets those surface
nerves right on the skin. so technically when you’re using this for pain relief
your muscles shouldn’t really be contracting. now sometimes if you if you
have just really thin skin or not a lot of meat on your bones, those muscles will
contract a little bit, but the goal of a TENS unit is strictly for pain relief,
it’s not to contract those muscles so that’s what a little bit of the
difference is. and what I really like about a TENS unit for pain relief in
general is if you don’t like taking the pain medication or maybe you have
allergies or bad reactions to pain medication, this is a good alternative.
when I’ve had both my surgeries shoulder and hip, and all the other surgeries I’ve
had, but mainly those, I maybe one or two days afterwards, I’ll take some pain
medication and then I’ll just use a TENS unit and ice the rest of the time
because it’s enough for me to take away that pain, and for most people take that
edge off just enough. so I think is a great alternative especially if you just
don’t do very well pain medication which a lot of people don’t. so it has, with tens,
a lot of different settings. this unit particularly here, the folks at
CUH sent me, and I really like this one not only because it’s small and compact
but it has 16 different modes. so that’s really really cool and it’s got a lot of
power to it as well, but again like I mentioned before, it’s not supposed to
contract the muscles this is a tens unit where it kind of massages those
muscles, it gets that current in there just to calm things down. and basically
what I tell my patients not in technical terms, so what does the tens unit exactly
do to make the pain go away? so this current follows the same pain pathway
back to your brain because the pain really comes from our brain it’s not, you
know, if my me is hurting the pain is not really here it’s sending signals to my
brain and my brain saying yes that hurts. so it’s following that same pain pathway
and kind of canceling it out through vibration, so that’s that’s what it does.
that’s the goal of it. it does in a sense have a healing component to it because
that that vibration that that nerve impulse, the electrical impulse, excuse me
that goes in there kind of helps increase the circulation
as well so if you’ve got some swelling you’ve got some irritation, it will
help with that, but its main goal is to kind of cancel out that pain feeling. so
you can do your stretches and exercises to feel better. so again I’m going to
show you real quick here the CUH brand which is really cool. I mean look how big
it is, it fits into my palm right there. you can put it in your pocket. it’s got
two separate channels which I like and each channel which this is, the the part
that I like best about it has two electrodes on it, so it gives you the
option of either just doing one channel with two electrodes or two channels with
four electrodes, and you can use them for different purposes. my main rule of thumb
is if you have a big surface like the knee, you want to use the four electrodes.
and if you have something smaller like the elbow or maybe even if you’re just
trying to get a specific area, then just use the two electrodes or one channel. so
it’s really important also people sometimes don’t know this and sometimes
it’s not in the instructions, and in certain units but so one channel here
where it’s connected you can see they need to cross each other. so if you’re
using four electrodes, it should be like this and the pain spot should be
basically in the middle. so if I’ve got this channel, I’m going to put one here
and then I’m going to put one on the opposite side down below, and then I’m
going to put a make it a cross so the other channel then goes here (with some
dog hair on it) and then it crosses over on the other side. and so what that does
is it makes the currents go this way so you’re getting it in that pain area. if
you do the same channel here and here then it’s just going to go this way and
it’s going to go this way, and some people might think that feels okay, but
if the goal is to really get that spot, you want it to go this way and this way.
so the other big thing that people like to ask is once you turn it on, it’s got
those 16 modes, and they’re like well which mode should I use, you know, there’s
16 of them. how do I know what’s best for me? this is what I tell my patients.
you’ll probably hear therapists tell you completely different things. which
ever one makes it feel better. whichever one you like the best. I think
everybody’s personal preference is going to be something different, which is fine.
you know they, some of them will have settings that say this is for your knee,
this is for your shoulder, this is for your elbow, this particular one doesn’t
do that, it has just some different kind of massaging type sensations, and so in
the end if it’s increasing the circulation and if it’s following that
same pain pathway to cancel it out, to me I don’t think it really matters
what setting you have. I think the different settings to me are your
comfort level, so some people like the one that just goes up and down and up
and down like that, and some people like the one that kind of almost like
somebody’s just kind of beating on you a little bit to get that vibration or
specific massages to do that. so it’s really just what you think feels the
best. so as you can see it’s got a lot of great features so if you’re interested
in purchasing the CUH you can click on the link up here. so what I want to show
you really quickly I’m gonna do what you probably shouldn’t do, and I’m gonna take
it up strong enough where it actually will probably start making a muscle
contract a little bit which is what you don’t really want. now like a lot of
times on the shoulder since it’s a smaller area, and usually those muscles
are a little bit more on the surface, maybe you don’t have as much fat or
adipose tissue on it, you might start getting a little bit
contractions, but you don’t really want that to happen because that’s going to
fatigue out that muscle and again the purpose of the TENS is to make you feel
better, they cancel out that pain so let’s see if I can do this without my
hair sticking up. just kidding. so I’m just going to start going and so
you can see here we’re, see how it jumped like that? I really don’t want it that
high it again might do a little bit in some places, and sometimes you can just
fix that by changing the placement of the electrode a little bit. so here it
was getting that VMO just a little bit more, so I’m just going to move that that
pad just a little bit back .and this is on, that it’s not going to make a
difference if you take them off and put them on while it’s still on, I would just
turn it down back down to its lowest setting. but so now it’s not really doing
that contraction that’s about it at the same level now if I turn it up it will
still, you can probably see a little bit where it’s doing that and that’s just
not something I think it’s really good for your muscle, you know if you’re
trying to get strengthening and make that muscle contract that’s what you
want, but for the tens unit you really don’t want that, so again on this one
it’s pretty cool because it has the different settings and you know I would
say when you get it just go through and see how it feels. you know again some
people like the certain ones better than the others, and another thing that I
really like about this unit is it comes with some other electrodes as well so
different sizes. so these smaller electrodes are usually better for
smaller surface area. so let’s say I’ve got some lateral epicondylitis or
something like that what I would probably do is just use two electrodes
or two placements, and use the smaller pads just because that’s going to get a
little bit more directly to the area and it’s going to be, it’s just really going
to hit that spot versus having those electrodes you know big and clunky all
over the place. so I think I got myself all tied up. there we go. and so by having
the smaller electrodes you can really just get around the spot. so let’s say
that outside elbow tennis elbow a little bit
is really sore, then I can take these and just place you know one right here and
then the other one right here. now with this unit what I found is they’re
they’re both on all the time, so if you don’t want one of them on, then you want
to probably go ahead and just unplug that side, and then you probably wouldn’t have it
plugged in anyways, but if you’re just using to just plug in that one, and then
again you can pick which mode is best for you, and it might be different. so if
you like one on the knee, you might like a different one on a smaller area or
something, so I could then just change it to whatever I wanted to and for
some of these, is for like headaches or reflexology in the feet or in the ears
and things like that, and so those are not quite as intense and so you might
want to start with those first and see how they feel. so I think it gives you a
really good variety of things to try and so you can just do the one that works
best for you, and what works best for you might not work for somebody else, so the
main things I would say is if you’re gonna use it on your low back for low
back pain which I think tens is great for, I would use the four electrodes and
just kind of make a nice surface area of your back so you’re just getting that
whole general low back or mid to upper back. and so the further away might not
be quite as strong, but you’re going to get more of an area. if you’re using the
shoulder it kind of depends on where the pain is. some people if it’s like on the
outside might just want to do two right here but I like if your shoulder in
general is hurting, do one back one front kind of one up here at the neck, and then
one a little bit lower on the arm so then you kind of get that whole area as
well. you can even do it on if you’ve got shin splints, you can do your anterior
tibialis, if you’ve got you know calf strain, calf cramping, and things like
that. you can use it on your calf, hamstrings, quad, we talked a little bit.
so you really can use it almost anywhere that you have some muscle soreness. once
you start getting into the front of the neck, or you know where those those
arteries are and stuff, you want to be you want to be a little careful with
those. you don’t want to go right there, but as long as it’s those big muscle
groups, those should be fine, but you should always talk with your doctor or
physical therapist first because there are some what we call contraindications
for using these, and a lot of times after surgeries sometimes the TENS is usually
fine, the neuromuscular is not always fine. specially if you have a fracture or
something, so again even if you’re using the tens I would clear it with your
doctor of whatever injury you have or if you’re going to physical therapy you
know check with them and take your unit with you. I’ve had my patients say hey I
bought this online it’s awesome but I don’t know how to use it, and so then
your therapist can use some of the session just to show you how to use it,
make sure you’re using it properly, make sure you’re feeling good while you’re
doing it, making sure that those electrodes are in good placement to
really get that pain relief that you need. so there you have it that’s how you
use a TENS unit for pain relief. and if you’re interested in purchasing the CUH
make sure to click on the link up here, and don’t forget to subscribe by
clicking down here. and remember, be safe (don’t go too high), have fun, and I hope
you feel better soon.

94 thoughts on “How to Use a TENS Unit for Pain Relief – Ask Doctor Jo

  1. Oh crap I didn't know they should be crossed. Mine is on now, and I just moved them to be crossed, it feels different and better to me than one on each side.

  2. love ur vid…….a great help!!
    thing is i have gel with mine…..says u apply the gel b4 pads go on.

  3. Hi where do you place the tens for front shoulder pain? For a tear in the shoulder. Thank you for your help.

  4. I got one and contacted the company to ask about pad placement. The answer I got included things like "Put 2 X pads on the upper calf, side by side, and 2 Y pads directly below each X pad, about an inch apart." I don't see anywhere that tells you which ones are the X pads and which are the Y pads.

  5. Do you think this would be a good choice for amputee who is burn victim? Her Skin grafts are healed over the past year, but she still experiences neuralgia as well as phantom leg pain.

  6. Why would it fatigue the muscle when the energy is from an outside source? Your not using any energy in your body for contraction right?

  7. I recently purchased a unit very similar to this one. But I feel I was ripped off as i paid an exorbitant price compared to the price of this product. That being said, one thing you mentioned, but I would like to reiterate regarding removing and adjusting the pads, you really should turn the unit off or completely down before moving them as it feels like a shock if you don't. BTW, Love your shirt Dr Jo!

  8. Hello, My Mom had a brain stroke, and it paralyzed the right arm and leg, I am giving her TENS to create new brain connections, I set it to Width 200-240, M mode, rate 2mhz for 30 minutes,
    Am I doing it right or is it wrong, she tells me when it hurts so I set it back a bit until she feel no pain, the muscles are contracting.

  9. I’ve had my Empi Epix XL for just over 20 years, and I think it’s time for a new one ,it has ok amount of settings but seems like it’s not as strong, anymore. For its age it’s a nice compact one and I’m looking for similar one with a little stronger current. I wasn’t aware I couldn’t use my tens on muscles which ones can you use on muscle or even better ones that possibly do both?

  10. Purchase the TENS Unit featured in this video here: (affiliate link). Want more in-depth info about TENS Units and/or EMS Units, including step-by-step color photos for a wide variety of placements all over the body? Buy my book here:

  11. I get really really really bad cramps that go into my legs amd hips on my period i hope this works because every medicine i have taken in the past it doesn't work

  12. Thanks so much for the video. I have the JQ-5C and used it for the first time today. Will it help get rid of tennis elbow or does it only mask the pain? Also, where exactly should I place it relative to where hurts?

  13. Hi! I have bad knees from flat feet syndrome and also knee valgus, i have pain everyday from walking more than half an hour, will this help with the pain

  14. Doctor Jo, I have been having calf muscle pain and calf muscle spasms. Should I try a TENS unit or an EMS machine? Thanks!

  15. Hi Dr Jo. I fell in ice , not real bad but i have had really bad pain that is in my right hip that goes down the front of my leg almost to the knee. It is relived when i sit. but when standing after a few min i get the pain that spasms on and off. This happend 2 weeks ago. It is not as severe but debilitating. Went to doc and he gave me muscle relaxers and naproxen. It helps very little. could i have injured a hip muscle?Thanks

  16. Thanks for your help phone tips I'm still free to use that I bought mine at Walgreens a week ago and still nervous about using it I don't know why I just feel apprehensive them going to mess it up thanks again I hope I get the feel comfortable and started using this as my shoulder pain as arthritis and bursitis probably thanks to my dad and it's starting to get pretty bad where I can't not sleep even with ibuprofen . I'm 67 years old it's just been bothering me for the past 6 months thanks again all the best bye

  17. I use it about 15 minutes before and after running on my ankles for stimulation of the area that makes my ankles stronger.

  18. I strained my calf muscle and I wanted to know if this thing would help me. I don't feel much pain at all but there is bruising and I am trying to get rid of that and heal my muscle at the same time. Can I use this to do that?

  19. Dr. Jo, thanks so much for explaining about crossing the electrodes — you were right, the unit I got did not adequately explain that. Thanks again!

  20. I have pain in a lot of places. Neck, shoulders, hips, back, head, legs. I also have digestive issues and extreme fatigue. Do you think a tens unit would help me?

  21. I have knee pain, mostly all over, but sometimes it centralizes in the back of the knee, can I use it on the back of my knee?

  22. hi there i have a rare chronic bladder condition called interstitial cystitis and this has been recommended to me , where would i put it , below my belly button ??


  23. @askdoctorjo where would I place it for an Inguinal hernia? And same placement post surgery while recovering?

  24. Hi Doc. If you don't mind, what's the best TENS brand on the market right now for back pain and sciatica? It's my first time hearing about this and I wanna make sure to get the right thing.

  25. I have a question. I have a rod and screws on my femur. My RoM is only 90, 100 on a good day. I fell in Feb, no breaks or fracs. But I do have OA and possible Bone Spur. I have back of the knee pain and a Tens 3000. On Thurs I got a Cort shot. Is it safe to use Tens after that? I have had PT, will possible have more now. Thanks.

  26. My pain is neuropathy in my feet, how would I do the cross technique with my feet, or just use the two? Also, are the pads reusable? I take 900mg gabapentin 3 times per day with no relief, I really want to try this.

  27. Does it help with Charlie horse cramps? Because when I was 4 years old I broke my left leg. I’m almost 27 and I always get sharp cramps and tightness in my shin and lower ankle area which makes me cry so bad!

  28. I was told in the hospital where I got it that so set the normal number for my chronic pains, I should keep raising the number until I feel the little feeling like ants walking on my skin. Any number is it, I should triple it.
    For example. If I feel it on 12, I have to raise it to 36. And sometimes it's too strong to handle.

  29. if i have a tens device, could i use it as an ems device somehow? is turning the intensity up on a tens device the same as an ems? or should i just buy a new ems device altogether?

  30. Can this be used for post workout recovery? You mentioned the muscle shouldn't contract for pain relief, What about for lactid acid buildup in the muscle tissues?

  31. Please let me know if Can be used it to relive pain and for strenght thigh mascle after knee transplantation?

  32. Would a TENS device be more effective than using the hand held cordless massager you talk about in your Muscle Soreness video? I haven’t decided about buying a TENS unit yet so I am trying to get more info. Thanks Doctor Jo. You are the best..

  33. I gave myself drop foot from a leg press last week. There was a pain along the nerve along my bone and now my foot is kinda numb and I can't dorseflex it. I had a nerve injury a long time ago that caused about the same thing. Would I be able to use something like this to try to stimulate the nerve back into action or should I wait it out. Seeing a neurologist is out of the question.

  34. So for the tens unit you want it to only vibrate your muscles? Mine for some reason vibrates them and at a certain point they start contracting a lot.

  35. Good day dr. Jo can i put tens unit in the heart, neck and spinal cord? And also can i put this in the head near the sideburns to relieve headaches? Thank you

  36. I sought my chiropractor for neck pain 4daus ago I have a bad burn now due to apparent electrode placement I'm a diabetic as well. Never before has this happened to me by a chiropractor. Please help

  37. I suffer with really bad cramp pain in my calves, really really painful and can stop me being able to walk for a day or so after a really bad attack, would this machine help me??

  38. Hello Dr. Jo I read in the manual of my tens unit to only do 90 minutes total of 15 minute sets or something like that . So my question is if using the tens has a limitation use.

  39. Hello doctor, I have Osgood disease, I’m a senior and it hurts can I use it on that or would it do more harm than good?
    By the way Dr I found your answers to the questions we ask just as helpful as the video itself, thank you

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