Electrodes are used to facilitate the conduction of an electrical signal into the body for rehabilitative or pain control purposes.They come in several alternative sizes and shapes.
The most important goal for an electrode is creating and maintaining a sound electrical connection between the patient’s skin and the device producing the electrical signal. The device could be a TENS machine, an ultrasound or EMS unit or anything else.
Some of the better electrodes are equipped with a hydrogel coating for better conductivity. In addition to their conductivity, these electrodes are easier to apply and remove. They also don’t leave a sticky residue after removal and you can re-use them on multiple occasions.
If you have a latex allergy, you may be able to obtain latex free electrodes. These are also an optimal choice for those with generally sensitive skin.
Electrodes with a cloth backing are designed for user comfort. If this is a high priority, they may be the optimal choice. They also offer superior conformability to electrodes with foam backing, albeit at a generally higher price.
How To Choose The Best Electrodes
As mentioned above, electrodes come in various sizes and shapes. The smallest ones are around 1” to 2” square, or they may be circular with a diameter around 2”.
The square 2” by 2” electrode is the most widely sold one on the market today. They are usually used in sets of 4. A typical pack of electrodes would contain 10 sets of these “4-packs”
The small square shape of these electrodes facilitates their use on small areas, especially when these are part of a larger contoured region of the body. They can “pinpoint” these small areas for pain control.
Although we refer to them as “round”, the electrodes in this category actually may be purchased with either circular or oval shapes. They are usually a good choice for pinpointing very small areas for localized pain control or rehabilitation of injured muscles. Examples of these would be the knees and elbows which, although highly contoured, can in many cases easily accommodate 2″ round electrodes with adequate conformance.
Butterfly Shaped Electrodes
These electrodes are a popular choice for use on larger areas like the lower back area. This is one of the most prevalent sources of pain for individuals of all ages. In addition, lower back pain tends to occur over a large area, so smaller electrodes would not be adequate.
Larger butterfly shaped electrodes help to distribute the electrical signal reliably across a large surface area. In addition, the back is less contoured than other areas (like the shoulders) so the larger size of these electrodes does not present a problem.
In addition to the shapes mentioned above, you can buy electrodes in long rectangular shapes.
This shape is usually a good choice for for long flat areas such as the spine. They are also a good choice for body areas like calves, thighs, biceps or triceps. You can just wrap the electrodes around these areas for optimal coverage while still maintaining good contact throughout the surface area of the electrode.
Types Of Electrode Connection
Another important difference between various electrode models is the type of connection they are fitted with. There are two general types of connection – pigtail or snap.
These are the most prevalent type of connection. They are equipped with a short wire (the pigtail) extending from the electrode pad. This wire is used as the connection point to the TENS or other machine.
This type of connector is a standard 3.5mm diameter snap.The lead wires from the TENS or other machine producing the signal can be easily connected to the snap on the electrode. In general, snap connectors are reliable attachment points that keep the electrodes connected to the machine during use.