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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

Electric TENS Unit: Can It Improve The Quality Of Life?

iTENS small wing kit with written features

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy is a method of pain relief. It uses an electric TENS unit that sends electrical currents to the body through electrode pads placed on the skin. The electrical stimulation works in various ways to improve the quality of life. Foremost, it interrupts the pain signals travelling to the brain. In addition, it stimulates the production of endorphins and boosts blood flow.

Living with acute or chronic pain presents challenges, impacting daily activities or routines. Consequently, individuals often explore diverse methods to manage these conditions, which can involve medications or physical therapy. However, these conventional treatments may not always provide adequate relief or may not be suitable for everyone. Thus, many turn to modern pain control solutions like TENS therapy. This article delves into the functions of a TENS device, including its mechanism of action and benefits.

What is an Electric TENS Unit?

An electric TENS unit is a medical device for pain relief. It delivers low-voltage electrical currents to specific areas of the body. Additionally, it has adjustable settings to give different pulsating effects for various types of pain. This ability allows users to use the device with the appropriate amount of stimulation for their pain level.

TENS machines, once confined to hospitals or pain clinics, are now available online or in stores for personal use thanks to technological advancements. Patients with pain conditions can use TENS alongside other treatments like physical therapy, massage, or medication to manage pain better. However, consulting a doctor or physical therapist beforehand is crucial to avoid safety concerns.

Furthermore, TENS units are available in two main types: wired and wireless. Wired TENS units require electrode pads to be placed on the skin and connected to the device with lead cables. On the other hand, wireless TENS units utilise Bluetooth technology to transmit electric currents from the device to the adhesive electrodes. Both types can be adjusted to various intensity levels and offer different treatment modes to suit individual needs.

Brief History of Electrical Nerve Stimulation

  • Electrical nerve stimulation was first discovered in ancient times by the Egyptians, who used electric fish to provide pain relief.
  • During the 18th century, Luigi Galvani conducted experiments involving frogs and electricity, which showed that electrical stimulation of nerves led to muscle contractions.
  • In the 19th century, Emil Du Bois-Reymond discovered that electrical pulses could stimulate nerves and muscles in humans.
  • In the 20th century, C. Norman Shealy further developed electric nerve stimulation by inventing the implantable neurostimulator.
  • Today, medical and therapeutic settings commonly utilise electrical nerve stimulation to treat chronic and acute pain, promote muscle rehabilitation, and address neurological disorders.

A woman using iTENS on her arm and lower back

How Does an Electric TENS Unit Work?

An electric TENS unit works by utilising various mechanisms to provide pain relief therapy. Firstly, it blocks pain signals from reaching the brain. The TENS unit achieves this through the pain gate mechanism. It sends electrical impulses to the sensory nerves, effectively closing the “gate” that allows pain messages to pass through.

Secondly, it triggers the release of endorphins. These hormones are natural painkillers that provide lasting and effective analgesia. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors and inhibit them from sending pain messages. They can also help reduce inflammation and stress. By improving moods, endorphins can enhance the quality of life.

Furthermore, the TENS unit helps to boost blood circulation in the treatment area. Poor blood circulation can worsen pain and slow down the healing process. However, the electrical impulses from TENS cause the blood vessels to dilate, allowing for increased blood flow. This improved circulation helps to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the affected. Also, it assists in the removal of toxins and waste products, facilitating the healing process.

Frequencies and Intensities

Frequency refers to the number of electrical pulses that TENS delivers per second. Higher frequencies (50-150 Hz) are ideal for acute pain management. Meanwhile, lower frequencies (2-5 Hz) are more applicable for chronic pain relief.

Intensity refers to the strength of the TENS electrical current. A lower intensity setting, such as 10 to 20 mA, offers mild pain relief. Moderate intensity, ranging from 25 to 40 mA, provides significant pain reduction. Higher intensities above 40 mA can be employed for severe pain management. Overall, finding the right frequency and intensity is essential for maximising the benefits of the therapy.

A person using iTENS discreetly on her shin

Benefits of Using an Electric TENS Unit

Electric TENS units offer numerous benefits, making them a popular option for pain management. Firstly, they provide a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. They do not need any needles or incisions, so they give a safe and comfortable experience for individuals. Their non-medicated approach reduces the risks of dependency and side effects like nausea and digestive issues.

Secondly, TENS devices provide customisable treatment. Users can adjust settings to control stimulation according to their comfort levels. This versatility makes TENS therapy suitable for various pain conditions. Additionally, many digital electronic devices offer preset modes for easy use. These programs remove the need for manual adjustment and have predetermined parameters for specific body parts or ailments.

Thirdly, TENS therapy provides a cost-effective and long-term solution for managing pain. Medications and regular physical therapy sessions can incur ongoing costs. In contrast, the price of a TENS machine includes the initial purchase and replacement of electrode pads, lead wires, and batteries. These expenses are relatively low compared to other options. Moreover, TENS machines are portable and easy to use, enabling users to integrate therapy into their daily routines.

Applications of TENS Therapy

The versatility of TENS devices makes them suitable for various chronic and acute pain conditions. One common treatment for TENS is musculoskeletal pain, which encompasses arthritis, fibromyalgia, back pain, and joint pain. Another treatment is for neuropathic pain or dysfunction of the nerves, including diabetic neuropathy, sciatica, and phantom pain.

Furthermore, TENS benefits people with postoperative pain by helping alleviate discomfort and swelling until they fully recover. A TENS machine is also commonly used for labour pain, often utilised in the early stage of labour to minimise painful contractions. Overall, TENS units offer a safe, effective, and versatile method of pain management.


In conclusion, an electric TENS unit is a handy tool for managing pain effectively. It blocks pain signals, triggers the release of natural painkillers, and improves blood circulation to the affected area. This not only alleviates discomfort but also promotes healing. Whether wired or wireless, these devices offer adjustable settings for personalised pain relief. However, consulting a healthcare professional before use is essential for safety.

Moreover, TENS units bring several benefits for pain relief. They offer a non-invasive and drug-free approach, reducing dependency risks and side effects. Also, TENS therapy is suitable for a range of chronic and acute pain conditions, including musculoskeletal and neuropathic pain, postoperative discomfort, and even labour pain. Its portability and ease of use enable users to integrate pain relief into their daily routines seamlessly. Overall, TENS units provide a reliable method for alleviating pain and improving quality of life.

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