Electrotherapy Devices

Electrotherapy Devices:  also known as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

The therapeutic value of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has been well known and in use for many years despite the fact that we have only theories to explain why this approach works.  When used by a healthcare professional trained to determine the proper placement of electrodes and to select an appropriate mode, the TENS device offers a realistic non-drug approach to pain control.   In particular, where pain is chronic, and not responding to traditional drug therapy TENS offers another modality that can prove to be very effective.

Conductive Gel

Conductive gel helps to enhance the conductivity between the electrode and the skin.  It works by wetting the skin, thereby reducing skin resistance. When applied to an electrode the conductive gel helps the signals to get to the nerves under the skin.

Spectra 360 Electrode Gel is the only salt-free and chloride-free electrically conductive gel.


Electrodes are used in conjunction with Transcutaneous Nerve Simulators (T.E.N.S Unit).  They are placed on or around the area causing most of the pain and are joined to the T.E.N.S Unit with wires.  The electrodes have a flexible cloth backing which allows the electrode to easily and durably conform to different body surfaces.  Electrodes are available in a variety of shapes and sizes for application. Each electrode comes pre-gelled and wired for easy application.

Electrodes are placed on different areas of the skin depending on the location and type of pain.

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Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulators (T.E.N.S Unit)

The T.E.N.S Unit is a pocket size, portable, battery-operated device that sends electrical impulses to specific parts of the body and helps with pain management. There are two theories about how the T.E.N.S. unit manages pain.  The first theory is the Gate Control Theory.   This theory suggests that by electrically stimulating sensory nerve receptors, a gate mechanism is closed in a segment of the spinal cord. This prevents pain carrying messages from reaching the brain and blocking the perception of pain.

The second theory is the Endorphin Release Theory. This suggests that electrical impulses stimulate the production of endorphins in the body.   These release morphine-like substances that blocks pain messages from reaching the brain. This is similar to the effects of conventional drug therapy but without the drug side effects.

The battery-operated TENS unit features include a small transformer, a pulse generator, frequency and intensity controls and usually has four electrodes.   It has three modes: continuous, modulate and burst and is sometimes equipped with a timer.

TENS is an excellent, non-drug alternative for chronic pain such as lower-back ache and arthritis. It is also useful in relieving acute pain associated with surgery, traumatic injury, and other conditions.   The effectiveness of the TENS is residual meaning, when turned off the pain relieving effect will last.

We recommend if living with chronic pain and you are questioning if you would benefit from the use of a TENS unit, discuss this with your physician. The best way to start using a TENS unit is under the direction of a physiotherapist. Ask for a physiotherapy referral and discuss this with your therapist. They are the most knowledgeable in the proper use of a TENS unit.

We do not recommend purchasing a TENS unit and experimenting with it. This never results in a good outcome for the individual trying a unit on their own.

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