How to Place TENS Machine Pads

Place TENS pads over a sore area to reduce joint pain.
Place TENS pads over a sore area to reduce joint pain. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

TENS, or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator, is a device used to decrease either chronic or acute pain. The electrical stimulation is thought to interrupt pain signals traveling to the brain, resulting in less pain felt by the user. Pad placement and machine use in general depends on the type and location of the pain you're experiencing. Not everyone can use a TENS machine, and it must be prescribed by a medical professional, so always check with your health care provider before using the machine.

Dry the skin before pad application. The pads will not stick to wet or injured skin.

Place the pads directly over the painful site for muscle or joint pain. Muscle pain can include spasms, soreness or even sharp stabbing sensations. The same is true for joints that hurt from arthritis or inflammation. However, do not place the pads on top of an area where there's radiating pain from an injured nerve.

Place the pads to surround nerve or post-surgery pain. Place the pads on either side of the painful area. So after a knee surgery,for example, place two pads above the kneecap and site of incision and two pads below; or place pads on the inside of the kneecap and on the outside. The idea is to “capture” the pain with the pads so the electric stimulation penetrates the correct location.

Place the pads on the upper and lower back during labor pains. Some women use a TENS unit during labor pains to decrease pain intensity. The pads go on your back during labor. Place two high on the back between the shoulder blades -- one pad on the left side of the spine and one on the right -- then two pads low on the back, above the buttocks region, on either side of the spine.

Tips & Warnings

  • Experiment with pad placement before deciding that the TENS unit is not working for you. The placement is critical and different for each type of pain and individual.
  • Do not attach the pads to cuts, scrapes or irritated skin.
  • Do not use on the neck or face as this may adversely affect nerves, blood pressure or even brain function.
  • Avoid putting pads on places with reduced sensation or numbness.
  • Do not put TENS pads on when you will be driving, even if you have a portable unit.
  • The pads are designed to stick on your skin. If you touch and handle the sticky side of the pads too much, they will eventually lose their ability to adhere. So handle the non-sticky side when placing the pads.
  • If you get a rash after applying the pads, you may need pads made of a different material. Check with your prescribing doctor.
  • Check with your doctor before putting pads over implants or internal devices like a defribrillator.

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