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Conventional TENS: What It Is and the Mechanisms of Action

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Conventional Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a treatment method of pain relief that uses mild electric currents through a portable device. It blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. Additionally, conventional TENS can trigger the release of endorphins. These are the natural painkillers in the body. Health professionals and individuals use this treatment method for various types of pain. The components of a TENS device include a control unit and sets of electrodes.

Living with acute or chronic pain can be challenging, as it affects daily activities or routines. Therefore, people seek various ways to manage the conditions, often involving medications or physical therapy. However, these treatment methods may not be suitable for everyone. Many seek modern pain control solutions leading to TENS therapy. Nevertheless, it is advisable to consult a health professional before starting electrotherapy. This article will present TENS therapy, including its mechanism of action and treatable conditions.

What is a Conventional TENS?

Conventional TENS is a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. It uses a portable device involving a control unit and adhesive electrode pads. The device sends electrical impulses through the electrodes placed on the skin to stimulate the sensory nerves. In addition, TENS typically uses thin wires to connect the unit to the electrodes. However, some modern versions have wireless pads, utilising Bluetooth technology to control the electrical stimulation.

TENS devices come with a range of features to cater to different needs. One of the main features is adjustable settings to control the pulse frequency, pulse amplitude, and pulse duration. This allows users to customise their treatment according to their comfort level and pain severity. Moreover, some devices offer multiple modes of operation with various patterns of electrical stimuli.

Furthermore, the electrode pads can be self-adhesive or require a conductive gel. They stick easily to the skin and provide a comfortable and secure connection for the electrical pulses. The pads are typically reusable, although they may need replacement after some time due to wear and tear. Lastly, the device may use single-use or rechargeable batteries.

Purpose of Conventional E-Stimulation

  • Relieve pain: TENS can provide analgesic effects by sending electrical impulses through the skin to nerves.
  • Improve circulation: It helps increase blood flow, promoting healing and reducing inflammation.
  • Relax muscles: TENS can ease muscle tension and spasms by stimulating nerve activity.
  • Enhance natural pain control: It encourages the body to release endorphins, its pain-relieving chemicals.
  • Manage chronic conditions: TENS can help manage long-term pain conditions like arthritis or back pain.
  • Reduce dependency on medication: By providing pain relief, TENS may reduce the need for analgesic consumption.
  • Non-invasive pain relief: TENS offers a non-invasive alternative to medication or surgery for managing pain.

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Mechanisms of Action Behind Conventional TENS

Conventional TENS uses an electric current to block pain signals. This mechanism is rooted in the Gate Control Theory of Pain. The theory suggests a “gate” is in the spinal cord controlling the transmission of pain signals to the brain. The continuous pulse pattern from TENS effectively closes this gate and prevents the pain signals from reaching the brain. As a result, TENS reduces the perception of pain in adults.

Additionally, electrical current therapy triggers the release of endorphins in the body. Endorphins are natural chemicals that act as pain relievers and mood enhancers. TENS prompts the body to produce and release more endorphins. This neurobiological mechanism contributes to pain inhibition, particularly for moderate pain conditions.

Furthermore, TENS therapy helps boost blood circulation in the treatment area. The electric current stimulates the nerves and muscles, causing them to contract and relax. This repeated muscle contraction and relaxation increase blood flow, delivering more oxygen and nutrients while removing waste products. Improved blood circulation aids in reducing inflammation and promoting tissue healing.

Frequency Setting

There are two primary frequency settings. Firstly, low-frequency TENS operates at frequencies ranging from 1 to 10 Hz. This setting stimulates the release of endorphins. It targets larger nerve fibres, which activate analgesic mechanisms. Additionally, this setting is effective for chronic pain management, promoting antinociceptive effects.

Secondly, high-frequency TENS works at frequencies above 50 Hz. By stimulating smaller nerve fibres, it primarily works to disrupt pain signals as they travel to the brain. This setting does not trigger the release of endorphins but instead inhibits pain transmission. Moreover, high-frequency TENS is suitable for acute pain conditions.

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Types of Pain Addressed by Conventional TENS

Conventional TENS can address various types of pain. Firstly, neuropathic pain occurs when there is damage or dysfunction in the nervous system. This type of pain often feels like burning, stabbing, or shooting sensations. Some neuropathic conditions include diabetic neuropathy, phantom pain, and trigeminal neuralgia.

Secondly, musculoskeletal pain refers to discomfort or soreness in the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, or joints. It can result from injuries like sprains or strains, overuse of muscles, and poor posture. Examples of this condition are chronic low-back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, and tendonitis. When someone experiences musculoskeletal pain, they may feel achy, stiff, or tender in affected areas.

Lastly, visceral pain originates from internal organs and can be challenging to treat. Conditions such as pelvic pain, migraine pain, and postoperative pain fall under this category. TENS therapy can be used as an adjunct to pharmacotherapy for visceral pain management. Nevertheless, it is essential to seek medical attention if experiencing persistent or severe discomfort for all types of pain.

Is It Safe and Effective?

Electric nerve stimulation is generally safe and effective for managing pain. However, users should be cautious of potential skin irritation, especially if they have sensitive skin. Some individuals may experience contact dermatitis, a skin reaction due to prolonged contact with the electrodes. Using a hypoallergenic electrode on healthy skin can minimise this risk.

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.


In conclusion, conventional TENS offers a portable, non-invasive, and drug-free way to relieve pain using electrical stimulation. It has a control unit and adhesive electrode pads that send gentle pulses to stimulate nerves. Users can adjust settings for comfort and severity of pain. Some models have wireless pads and various stimulation modes. TENS works by blocking pain signals, triggering the release of endorphins, and improving blood circulation for healing.

TENS therapy effectively addresses various types of pain, including neuropathic, musculoskeletal, and visceral pain. It is generally safe, offering relief to individuals experiencing discomfort. However, users should be mindful of potential skin irritation and start with low settings to avoid adverse effects. Seeking medical advice for persistent or severe pain is crucial. With proper usage and medical guidance, TENS therapy can significantly enhance the quality of life. People interested in wireless TENS devices may check iTENS Australia.

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