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How to Use a TENS Unit on the Hand

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, is a non-invasive treatment for pain relief. According to "Arthritis Care," it helps block or mitigate pain messages by introducing electrical stimulation of the nerves in and around the pain site. The interference with the pain signal to the brain gives the body relief, allowing time for endorphins to be released and for muscles to relax. TENS devices are readily available for home use, and can be effective in arthritic conditions, muscle problems, and carpal-tunnel syndrome.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Pour some rubbing alcohol onto a cotton ball and clean the area on your hand that is painful. This will remove any dirt and oil from the skin that could interfere with the electrode's signal. Make sure you clean an area large enough to accommodate both electrodes.

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Apply a pea-sized amount of water-based gel and thinly coat the underside of the first electrode pad. This helps keep the pad in contact with the skin and makes a better electrical connection. Attach the pad to one side of the painful area with sticking tape or plaster. Repeat this step for the second pad, attaching the electrode to the other side of the painful area. In this way, you capture as many pain-transmitting nerves as possible.

Check that the TENS machine is switched off. Attach one wire to the hook on top of the first electrode pad -- some pads may have the wire already attached. Plug the other end of the wire into the socket for electrode one on the TENS unit. Repeat this step for the second electrode, plugging the second wire into the socket for electrode two on the TENS device.

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Switch the machine on. Increase the dial gradually until you feel a tingling sensation. If the tingling feels painful, turn the dial down until you have a comfortable level of sensation in the skin. Use the device for the amount of time your doctor advises.

Switch off the TENS machine 1. Unplug the wires from the device and remove the electrode pads. Wash off any gel from your hand. Clean any gel residue from the electrode pads with a cotton ball and water; dry the pads and pack them away.


Ask your doctor for advice on treatment duration.


Don't use a TENS device if you have a pacemaker. Don't drive or operate machinery while using a TENS device. Don't put electrode pads on broken or irritated skin.