How to Use a TENS Unit for Calf Pain


Calf pain can result from a variety of things including overexertion, cramping and muscle damage. Moreover, there are as many treatment options for relieving such pain as there are causes. Many people who suffer from leg pain forego medications and instead opt for treatments such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit therapy. Electronic pain relief is a regimen that can be administered at home.

Things You'll Need

  • TENS machine
  • Electrodes
  • Discuss TENS treatment with a physical therapist or primary care physician who can recommend appropriate machine settings and intensity levels to extract maximum pain relief from this form of treatment.

  • Decide on optimal placement of the electrodes. Sometimes people will consult a TENS placement chart to determine where electrodes should be placed on the body. For lower leg pain, one electrode is often placed near the bottom of the calf muscle, and a second electrode is placed lower down, just above the ankle region. Chart consultation is recommended for those who do not solicit TENS assistance from a physician.

  • Cleanse the skin in the spots where the electrodes will be placed. An alcohol swab is optional but not necessary. It is, however, necessary to make sure the area is thoroughly dried before proceeding.

  • Attach the TENS unit wires to the disposable electrodes using the cord pins. Be sure that the wires are in good working condition before you activate the machine.

  • Remove the backing from the TENS electrodes and attach them to the designated sites on the leg. As TENS electrodes often have a strong adhesive, it is important to accomplish this step in a single attempt.

  • Activate the machine by slowly turning the pulse rate and pulse duration controls. If a doctor has indicated a starting level for these settings, go by those guidelines. Otherwise, the machine settings should be elevated until a tingling sensation is felt, which is when the muscles become activated. Unless indicated by a doctor, the muscles should not contract during this treatment.

  • Allow the machine to work on the calf muscles for 5 to 15 minutes, depending on the severity of pain. This treatment should be performed at least once per day. As the muscles grow accustomed to the procedure, pulse rate and duration levels may need to be elevated.

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