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How does TENS help with athletic recovery?

What Is TENS, and How Can It Help Athletic Recovery? Whether you’re a 3.0 or pro, you’re familiar with the challenge of dealing with soreness and fatigue that comes with playing pickleball. On top of that , as we age, it takes our bodies longer to recover. But what if there was a way to speed up the recovery process? Enter Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). This method of electrical stimulation can be used to relieve pain, decrease inflammation, and improve athletic recovery (yes, pickleball IS athletic!). I recently complained to my trainer of shoulder pain after overhead practice two days prior. He promptly slapped this TENS unit on my shoulder and lo and behold, it worked! 

What is TENS?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a noninvasive method of treating pain. In essence, it’s a machine that sends mild electrical impulses through electrodes placed on the skin in order to stimulate the nerves underneath. This helps to reduce pain by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain, as well as stimulating the body to produce it’s own natural painkillers and endorphins. TENS has been used for decades to treat a variety of acute and chronic pain, including back pain, arthritis pain, post-operative pain and even sports injuries.

It can also be beneficial for athletes who are looking to speed up their recovery time. By using TENS during a recovery session, it can help to decrease DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). The electrical stimulation helps to restore movement in muscles that have been overworked, reducing cramping and stiffness. It can also help to reduce lactic acid buildup in the muscles, which can cause pain and fatigue. Additionally, the electrical stimulation from TENS can increase blood flow and encourage more oxygen and nutrients to reach the tired muscle.

How Does TENS Work?

TENS devices are battery-powered and consist of an electrical pulse generator, leads, electrodes, and sometimes wires. The electrical pulses produced by the device are sent through the electrodes, which are attached to the skin and the leads, which are connected to the electrodes. The electrical pulses travel along the nerve pathways in the body, helping to block pain signals.

When the electrodes are placed on the skin, the electrodes create a sensation of tingling, warmth, and even vibration. These sensations help to reduce pain and discomfort, as well as promote relaxation. This helps muscles to relax, increasing blood flow and circulation, and leading to better athletic recovery.

TENS units come in different models, each with its own features to suit the individual’s needs. The power settings and pulse rates can be adjusted and customized based on the patient’s comfort level. (One of the few wireless options on the market is located here on our website.)

Benefits of TENS for Athletic Recovery

One of the main benefits of TENS therapy for athletic recovery is its ability to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation. The electrical stimulation increases the production of endorphins and reduces the amount of lactic acid buildup in the muscle tissue. This helps to relieve muscle tension, reduce stiffness and promote faster healing.

TENS therapy can also help improve circulation. The electrical stimulation increases the amount of blood flow and oxygen reaching the area, thereby speeding up the healing process. This can be especially beneficial for athletes as it will help them to recover quickly and resume physical activity sooner.

Moreover, TENS can help reduce the perception of pain. The electrical stimulation disrupts the transmission of pain messages from the nerves in the area. This causes the brain to receive fewer pain signals and can provide pain relief for sports-related injuries.

Finally, the convenience of TENS therapy makes it ideal for athletes who need quick and easy pain relief. TENS therapy can be done at home or at a physical therapy clinic and does not require a prescription. 

Potential Risks of Using TENS

While TENS is believed to be a safe and effective, it is important to understand the potential risks while recovering from athletic activities.

First, if the electrodes are not properly placed, there is a potential risk of electric shock or burns. A person may be at risk of injury if the electrodes are placed too close together or too far apart. It is important to always use the TENS unit according to the instructions to help ensure the electrodes are properly placed.

Another potential risk is overstimulation. Due to the nature of TENS therapy, there may be times when the treatment makes the patient feel dizzy or nauseous. This can happen if the dosage of electricity is too strong, so it is important to adjust the settings on the device as needed. Additionally, some patients may experience pain or discomfort due to the electrical stimulation. It is important to start at a lower setting and gradually increase the intensity if needed.

Finally, there is also a risk of addiction with TENS (seriously). Some people may become dependent on the treatment to provide relief from their pain. It is important to talk to a healthcare professional before beginning any type of TENS therapy so they can monitor the progress. A healthcare professional can also advise on the  appropriate dose of electrical stimulation.


TENS is useful for not just post-workout soreness, but can help with the general recovery time for athletes. By targeting specific muscles and helping to increase blood flow, TENS helps athletes reduce their recovery time. It is important to understand how to properly use the device, in order to ensure the most effective results. It is also wise to talk to a doctor or professional before starting any sort of new treatment regimen. By understanding and properly utilizing TENS, athletes can use it as a tool to help to get their bodies back to performing at peak levels.

Play on!