TENS electrodes: relieve pain using heat and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation


Used for ages, the effectiveness of heat in pain relief is well established. There are a number of ways to apply heat to a painful area, from more traditional methods such as hot water bottles, to the more modern such as heat patches or certain machines that treat pain using the painkilling effect of heat distributed via electrodes.

The effectiveness of heat for pain relief

Heat therapy, which means using heat to relieve pain, especially muscle pain, is a very old, traditional remedy. Heat has a painkilling effect because it slows down the transmission of nerve signals, and thus pain signals, to the brain. It also stimulates the blood circulation in a given part of the body, which helps to heal the painful area.

There are many different ways to apply heat to a painful area. These methods range from the simple blanket or hot water bottle, to modern methods such as heat patches, or various heat-generating creams.

Finally, some machines for treating pain such as OMRON TENS pain relievers also make use of the dual effect of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation combined with the pain-soothing effect of heat, applied using electrodes.

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TENS electrodes

TENS (which stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) electrodes are the part of the TENS machine that are placed directly on your skin, and through which electrical impulses, and in some cases, heat, are transmitted.

TENS machines aim to provide drug-free pain relief by using an electrical current. The machines consist of an electrical impulse generator connected to electrodes that are placed on the skin, and work by delivering small electrical impulses that stimulate the mechanisms responsible for pain. The machine’s action simultaneously blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain, stimulates the production of endorphins (natural painkillers), and improves blood circulation.

Some machines, like OMRON pain relievers, also combine this TENS technique with heat, which helps reduce muscle and joint pain even more effectively. The electrodes on this type of machine, in addition to transmitting electrical impulses, act as the equivalent of a heat patch or pad.

How do TENS electrodes work?

Once you have charged your TENS machine, you can remove the protective film from the electrodes, apply them directly to your skin and press the start button. The TENS electrodes must be placed on either side of the painful area, never directly on it. Make sure that the electrodes are positioned at least 2.5 centimetres apart from one another. You can then choose your TENS/massage modes, intensity, and heat settings, but this may differ per machine.

Read also: How to place TENS electrodes/pads?

Some rules to follow

  • Ensure that you apply the electrodes to clean and dry skin.
  • Check that the electrodes are firmly stuck to your skin.
  • Always use both electrodes and never place one on top of the other.
  • Do not use any cream, spray or lotion when using the electrodes, either on the skin or the electrode itself.
  • Never place the electrodes on your head, face or neck.

References: (2018). Transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation (TENS). Retrieved from

Gonse, I. (2018). Electrodes to treat back pain. Retrieved from

Horde, P. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation - indications and benefits. Retrieved from