What is a TENS unit and how does it work?

A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit may be a battery-operated device that some people use to treat pain.

TENS units work by delivering small electrical impulses through electrodes that have adhesive pads to connect them to a person’s skin.

These electrical impulses flood the systema nervosum , reducing its ability to transmit pain signals to the medulla spinalis and brain.

The same electrical impulses also stimulate the body to supply natural pain relievers called endorphins.

In this article, learn more about the uses of a TENS machine and therefore the research on its effectiveness.


TENS units can help treat and manage pain.
TENS units may help treat the subsequent symptoms:
  • period pain
  • labor pain
  • postoperative pain
  • joint pain
  • neck and back pain

They may also alleviate pain that results from the subsequent conditions:

  • endometriosis
  • arthritis
  • sports injuries
  • multiple sclerosis
  • fibromyalgia
  • painful diabetic neuropathy
  • spinal cord injury
A TENS unit has controls that allow people to administer an appropriate level of pain relief. People are able to do this by altering the subsequent aspects of the electrical current:

Intensity: A dial allows the user to regulate the intensity of the electrical stimulation.

Frequency: The frequency refers to the amount of electrical pulses per second. High-frequency (HF) pulses range from 80 to 120 cycles per second and should help manage acute pain. Low-frequency (LF) pulses range from 1 to twenty cycles per second and are suitable for the treatment of chronic pain.

Duration: The duration is that the number of microseconds that the present enters the skin for during each pulse.


TENS may be a noninvasive method for relieving pain. people that experience pain relief from TENS could also be ready to reduce their intake of pain medications, a number of which may be addictive or cause adverse side effects.

TENS units also are convenient because they're small, portable, and comparatively discrete. People can carry a TENS unit in their pocket or clip it onto a belt to make sure that they need immediate access to pain relief throughout the day.


Possible side effects

If the adhesive pads cause redness or irritation, hypoallergenic pads are available.
It is safe for many people to use a TENS unit, and that they won't usually experience any side effects.

However, the electrical impulses that a TENS unit produces may cause a buzzing, tingling, or prickling sensation, which some people may find uncomfortable.

Some people could also be allergic to the adhesive pads. Anyone who experiences skin redness and irritation can switch to using hypoallergenic ones instead.

It is vital never to put the electrodes on either the front of the neck or the eyes. Putting electrodes on the neck can lower vital sign and cause spasms. On the eyes, the electrodes can increase pressure within the attention and possibly cause an injury.

When to avoid TENS
Although it's safe for many people, experts recommend that some groups of individuals avoid TENS treatment unless a doctor advises its use.

This recommendation applies to the subsequent people:

Pregnant women: Pregnant women should avoid using TENS within the abdominal and pelvic regions.
People with epilepsy: Applying electrodes to the top or neck of individuals with epilepsy may induce seizures.
People with heart problems.
People with a pacemaker or another sort of electrical or metal implant.

Does it work?

Due to a scarcity of high-quality research and clinical trials, researchers haven't yet determined whether TENS may be a reliable treatment for pain relief.

One study found that TENS treatment provided temporary pain relief for people with fibromyalgia while the machine was in use.

While there's a scarcity of strong clinical evidence for its effectiveness, TENS may be a low-risk pain relief option for several people.

Several factors may influence the effectiveness of TENS:


Research shows that folks who use a TENS unit on a day to day at an equivalent frequency and intensity can develop a tolerance to the treatment.

A person who develops tolerance will not feel an equivalent level of pain relief that they did once they first used the unit.

To prevent this from occurring, people can alternate between LF and HF TENS within each treatment session.

Alternatively, they will gradually increase the intensity or duration of TENS on a day to day .

Stimulation intensity

The range of intensities of the electrical stimulation may account for a few of the differences in research findings.

According to a 2014 review, HF TENS treats pain more effectively than LF TENS. In fact, many studies have found LF TENS to be ineffective.

Given that HF TENS may be a simpler pain reliever, experts recommend that folks apply the highest-intensity TENS that they will tolerate.

Electrode placement

TENS could also be simpler if people place the electrodes on acupuncture points.

Acupuncture may be a practice that uses needles to stimulate the nerves beneath the skin at specific locations referred to as acupuncture points. Experts believe that this assists the body in producing endorphins.

One review found some evidence that folks who receive TENS through acupuncture points may experience a discount in pain.

How long does pain relief last?

A person who repeatedly uses a TENS unit may build up a tolerance.
The duration of pain relief after employing a TENS unit can vary. Some people report that their pain returns as soon as they cut the device. Others still experience an adequate level of pain relief for up to 24 hours.

A 2012 review suggests that the duration of pain relief increases after repeated TENS treatments. However, this repetition also can increase the likelihood of an individual build up a tolerance to the treatment.


The research on employing a TENS unit for pain relief has thus far yielded inconsistent results thanks to a scarcity of high-quality scientific studies and clinical trials.

Some research suggests that TENS treatment can relieve pain, but this might be hooked in to certain factors, like the affected area of the body and therefore the treatment intensity. Knowing how these factors affect TENS can help people use it more effectively.

Most people can use a TENS unit safely, and few will experience side effects. However, it's best to talk to a doctor before trying TENS either as an alternate treatment or together with other methods of pain management.

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