Finding the Best Settings for Your TENS Unit

by Miel | Last Updated: August 25, 2016 When you buy something using the links on our posts, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) units are devices which stimulate the nerves via an electrical current. They do so by stimulating the nerves over the skin, hence the “Transcutaneous”, which means “across the skin”.

TENS units are non-invasive pain relief tools that the users can use at home. Which brings us to the core of this article – finding the best TENS unit settings. If you own a TENS unit or are considering buying one, make sure to read our short guide.

Different TENS Unit Modes and How to Set Them

tens 7000 2nd edition

These devices typically have three different mode setting. They are usually referred to as: Normal, Burst and Modulation.

The Normal setting is recommended for inexperienced users, who still haven’t really found their way with these gadgets. This mode is most commonly used to relieve acute pain.

This setting is perfect for individuals who suffer from chronic pain, as TENS units usually send a burst of pain-relieving power.

The Modulation setting is useful for acute and chronic pain both. Essentially, when in the Modulation mode, the unit acts cyclically and varies between a few different settings.

How to Set the Frequency (The Pulse Rate)

Pain relief occurs at various frequencies and the pulse rate is considered to be the number of electrical pulses a person feels in one second. Frequency is measured in Hertz and this is how the pulse rate (frequency) is set:

For Acute Pain
Those who suffer from acute pain should set the frequency to be between 80 and 120 Hertz.

For Muscle Stimulation
If muscle stimulation is what you need, then 35-50 Hertz are the recommended values.

For Chronic Pain
Between 2 and 10 Hertz are the recommended settings for those suffering from chronic pain.

Pulse Width Settings

The width of the pulse (periods when the current is sent) can also be modified and controlled. In general, pain relief occurs with low/mid time periods, but a longer pulse width is needed for muscle contraction.

The recommended settings for pulse width are: 175 to 200uS (pulse widths are measured in milliseconds)

For How Long Can You Use a TENS Unit?

Again, the settings differ, depending on your needs and preferences, but generally here’s how long can a TENS unit be used:

For Acute Pain
20-60 minutes – (up to 4 times a day)

For Chronic Pain
20-30 minutes – (up to 5 times a week)

How to Apply and Use TENS Electrodes?

how to use tens electrodes


Naturally, electrodes are usually positioned on the area that needs to be treated, but “unconventional” placement can sometimes yield even better results. For example:

If you feel pain in the central part of your neck, you should place the electrodes on either side of the neck.

If you share your device with others, keep in mind you should use one set of electrodes per person. If they appear dry or fall off, ultrasonic gel can be used to ensure they stay firmly in place.

What to Avoid – Where Not to Use TENS Units?

Even though these devices are perfectly safe, FDA approved and often sold over the counter, they still need to be used in the correct way. Never place an electrode:

Epilepsy patients and patients with dementia should avoid using TENS units, but even healthy individuals should consult a medical professional before applying these devices.


“We wish you the best of luck in using your TENS unit and hope it brings you the pain relief you need.”

Author: M. Diaz

Miel is currently a full-time hospital clerk in the city. He used to have more writing time until rotations came along. In his 4th year of Medicine, his hobbies are sleeping and more sleeping. He dreams of being a couch potato.