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What Is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Used for?

What is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation?

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) delivers current to sore muscles, reducing pain for many.TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) delivers current to sore muscles, reducing pain for many.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a therapy that provides short-term pain relief using low-voltage electric current. It is noninvasive, inexpensive and can even be self-administered. It is one of the most popular forms of electric therapy for pain relief.

How does transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation work?

The TENS device delivers electrical impulses through the skin to the nerves. This reduces the ability of the nerves to send pain signals from an injured area to the brain, relaxes the muscles, and provides temporary pain relief.

What are the types of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation?

There are three methods by which TENS maybe applied:

  • Conventional TENS – high frequency/low intensity stimulation
  • Acupuncture-like TENS – low frequency/high intensity
  • Pulsed or intense TENS – the nerve stimulation comes in short bursts

Conventional TENS is the most commonly used method. The pain relief is almost immediate, but for a short duration. Some patients may not tolerate the higher intensities. These levels are only for those who do not respond to conventional TENS.

How is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation performed?

A patient undergoing TENS needs no preparation before the procedure. It can be done at an outpatient facility or at home by the patients themselves.

  • The TENS unit is a small battery-operated device that delivers low voltage electric pulses.
  • It has electrodes with sticky pads, which are placed on the patient’s skin over the affected area.
  • The stimulation settings can be adjusted to give effective pain relief without discomfort.

The TENS sessions can be as long and as often as needed depending upon the method used.

What conditions does transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation treat?

TENS is useful for chronic pain relief in patients with the following:

Musculoskeletal pain from conditions like

TENS has been used to relieve pain in patients with certain forms of chest pain, and for incontinence. There are reports of its use in assisting stroke patients to regain motor functions and to control nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy.


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What are the side effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation?

TENS has few or no side effects on most people. In some patients it may cause a few side effects:

Skin reactions can often be avoided by keeping the gel pads sanitized and following good skin care. The other reactions are uncommon and can generally be relieved with over-the-counter medicines.

TENS should be used with caution on patients with skin allergies or diseases. It should not be used on a patient who

Is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation safe?

TENS is, in general, safe for most people. The electric impulses might cause a prickling sensation that might be uncomfortable for some. Some may be allergic to the electrode pads.

Can a TENS unit cause nerve damage?

TENS unit is not known to cause any nerve damage. A backfire in the TENS unit might provoke an overreaction in the nerve causing some pain or discomfort, but the nerve itself is unlikely to be damaged. There is no conclusive evidence, but some research suggests chronic electrical stimulation might damage the nerve structure and disturb its function.

Is TENS effective for pain?

Overall TENS is effective for pain relief, which may be instant and prolonged. In some, it may take several sessions to see results. It should also be noted that TENS offers only short-term pain relief and is not a cure for pain.

Clinical experience shows that TENS is effective for most chronic pain and some acute pain. The efficacy of TENS appears to be variable depending on the individuals and the kind of conditions treated. Though many patients experience relief with TENS, no clear scientific evidence shows that it's as reliable a method of pain reduction as painkilling drugs. Research is ongoing.


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