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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

A TENS Machine: Definition and How It Works

A TENS machine with necessary information

Typically, health professionals utilise Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy to manage various types of pain in adults. It uses a medical device that emits mild electric currents. Providers and individuals can substitute a TENS machine for drugs as a natural method of pain relief. It stimulates nerve fibres through adhesive electrode patches they can place on the skin. Then, the pain gating and endorphin release mechanisms get activated to reduce discomfort and aches.

Dealing with pain due to health issues can be challenging to handle. Fortunately, different forms of pain relief are available. However, the effects of each one may vary from person to person. Thus, people should understand the components behind the treatment methods to make informed decisions. For instance, they should learn about the TENS unit before administering it. Thus, the following sections will present what it is, how it works, and the types of pain it can help manage.

What is a TENS Machine?

A TENS machine is a portable electrical device that acts as a natural pain reliever. It produces mild electrical impulses to the nerves. Medical professionals or individuals must attach the electrode pads to the skin surface of the pain site so the currents can reach the target area. Different shapes and sizes are available. Choose patches that suit the body part where the pain is located.

Moreover, people can select from various electrical nerve stimulation device types. The traditional version is handheld. It involves a control unit and sets of electrode patches. They can connect the two elements using wires. Meanwhile, the modern version is wireless. It uses Bluetooth technology so users can access a mobile app for further convenience and freedom of movement.

Generally, TENS machines are found in hospitals or pain clinics. With technological advancements, they are now sold online or in-store for personal use. Patients with medical conditions can apply TENS with other modalities, such as physical therapy, massage, or medication, for better pain management. However, consulting a doctor beforehand is essential to avoid safety concerns.

History and Development of TENS Technology

  • TENS technology was first introduced in the 1970s as a non-invasive method of pain relief.
  • The concept behind TENS technology originated from the Gate Control Theory of Pain.
  • Initially, TENS devices consisted of large, bulky devices with limited functionality.
  • Over time, technology allowed for the development of portable units people could use at home.
  • In the 1990s, TENS technology started incorporating more features, such as adjustable intensity levels.
  • Today, the TENS electronic device is much smaller and more user-friendly, with various settings to cater to individual preferences.
  • Ongoing research and advancements continue to refine the capabilities and benefits of TENS technology.

A person using a TENS unit on their leg

How Does a TENS Machine Work?

Electrical nerve stimulation can alleviate different types of pain in adults. However, users must follow the correct usage to ensure optimal results. Fortunately, a TENS machine is user-friendly. They should begin by attaching the electrode patches to the skin. The electrode placement must be on or around the pain site. Then, they can turn the device on and adjust the settings accordingly.

As the TENS therapy session progresses, individuals will feel a tingling or pulsing sensation in the electrode site. The mild electric currents stimulate the nerve fibres to help disrupt pain messages from reaching the brain. This mechanism is based on the Gate Control Theory of Pain. Moreover, the impulses can enhance the release of endorphins. These natural painkillers can further lessen pain perceptions and provide relaxation.

The TENS device can also improve circulation and promote healing. The electrical pulses from the unit can help increase blood flow to the targeted area, delivering oxygen and essential nutrients to the tissues. This improved circulation aids in reducing inflammation, relaxing muscles, and promoting natural healing processes. After 20-30 minutes of receiving therapy, users can turn the machine off.

Benefits of Using TENS

Using electrical nerve stimulation for pain relief provides several benefits to users. Firstly, the TENS device is non-invasive and drug-free. Hence, there is no need for injections or drug intake. Secondly, many machines are wearable. Thus, users can discreetly use them while going about their daily activities, allowing continuous treatment without disrupting routines.

Thirdly, operating TENS units allows individuals to control the intensity and frequency of the electrical pulses, providing a personalised treatment experience. Lastly, TENS machines are portable and lightweight. Therefore, they can manage their pain effectively without relying on bulky equipment or professional assistance.

A woman using a TENS machine on her lower back

Types of Pain Treated by a TENS Machine

TENS devices can treat a wide range of pain types. One of these is chronic pain. It lasts for a prolonged period, often months or years. Also, it can have a significant impact on the quality of life of patients. Some conditions include arthritis pain, chronic backaches, and cancer pain. Additionally, an electrical nerve stimulation unit can manage neuropathic pain due to diabetic neuropathy and postherpetic neuralgia.

Also, a TENS machine can reduce musculoskeletal pain. It is an ache in muscles and other body parts, including neck pain, shoulder discomfort, and leg pain. People can also place the electrode pads on areas with acute pain. It is a short-term pain that an injury, sprain, strain, or muscle spasm usually causes. Other conditions are labour pain, post-operative discomfort, and period pain.

Furthermore, the electrical stimulation device can alleviate migraines. Many users find that using it regularly helps reduce the frequency and intensity of their headaches. In summary, from chronic pain to musculoskeletal pain, TENS devices offer a natural way to manage various types of pain. Nevertheless, seeing a specialist before undergoing a session is necessary to avoid problems.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

Yes, there are potential side effects to using a TENS device. While professionals consider it generally safe, some individuals may experience skin irritation or redness at the electrode sites. They can minimise this occurrence by ensuring the correct placement of patches and using high-quality pads. Also, they should not apply the pads on broken skin.

In addition, some people may feel a mild tingling sensation during the TENS treatment, which is typically well-tolerated and not a cause for concern. They must select the recommended settings for their needs. However, they must always begin with the lowest level to prevent sudden electric shocks.


A TENS machine is a remarkable tool for managing and relieving pain. With its ability to deliver low-voltage electrical currents through electrode pads, it effectively disrupts the pain messages sent to the brain. Additionally, TENS can enhance endorphin production and blood circulation, leading to less pain perceptions. Aside from disrupting pain signals and activating other mechanisms of action, TENS devices are beneficial because they are a natural form of pain relief. Also, they are wearable and adjustable.

The TENS unit is also versatile in its application. It can cater to chronic pain conditions like arthritis pain, fibromyalgia, and cancer pain. Moreover, it can help manage acute pain conditions such as sports injuries and menstrual pain. It can also provide relief during labour. Furthermore, TENS can aid in neuropathic pain, musculoskeletal discomfort, and severe headaches. Overall, this innovative device has revolutionised the field of pain management through its use of low-voltage electrical currents.

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