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Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS: How Electrotherapy Provides Pain Relief

A small and large wing iTENS with refill gel pads

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS is a common electrotherapy technique that utilises a device to deliver electrical currents to the body. Accordingly, this electrical stimulation provides pain relief by activating different mechanisms. Foremost, TENS therapy triggers the release of endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body. Also, the electrical pulses may interfere with the transmission of pain signals. Additionally, TENS can help improve blood flow in the treatment area.

Living with any type of pain can be incredibly challenging, both physically and emotionally. Hence, it affects the overall quality of life. Traditional pain management methods often involve the use of pain medications, which can lead to unwanted side effects or even dependency. With the advancement in technology, electrotherapy, especially TENS, has emerged as a safe option. This article will present TENS therapy, including how it works and how to conduct it.

What is Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS?

Electrical nerve stimulation TENS is a therapy that uses a device to send low-voltage electric currents as a method of pain relief. This is possible due to the electrode pads placed on the skin. Accordingly, pain clinics, healthcare professionals, and physical therapists often use TENS as part of their treatment options for patients. Also, individuals use TENS for personal pain control at home.

TENS devices come in two main types: wired and wireless. Wired TENS units use lead cables to connect the electrode patches to the central device. On the other hand, wireless TENS are designed to be used without any physical wires. This provides a more convenient and mobile option for people. Nevertheless, users can control the device manually or via smartphone or tablet through Bluetooth technology.

Both units offer various features to cater for the needs of different users. Most TENS devices allow users to adjust the pulse rate, pulse amplitude, and pulse width. Hence, it provides a customisable form of pain relief. Additionally, many TENS units are equipped with pre-set programs that target different types of pain. This makes TENS therapy adaptable to various painful conditions.

Treatable Conditions

  • Acute pain: It arises for a short period of time. This typically results from labour painperiod painspostoperative pain, and injuries.
  • Chronic pain conditions: It is an ongoing discomfort. This may include conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and backaches.
  • Neuropathic pain: This is characterised by abnormal processing in the nervous system. TENS is valuable in treating ailments such as diabetic neuropathy or nerve entrapment syndromes.
  • Musculoskeletal pain: It stems from injuries, overuse, or structural issues. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis may benefit from TENS.
  • Muscle-related discomfort: TENS is an effective tool for managing muscular issues, such as that resulting from tension, strain, or overexertion.

An elderly woman using TENS on her arm while sitting and reading

How Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS Works

The electrical nerve stimulation TENS works through several mechanisms. When TENS is applied, it stimulates the nerve fibres in the body by delivering electrical impulses. This electric nerve stimulation triggers the release of endorphins. Endorphins are the natural pain-relieving chemicals of the body. Nevertheless, this action can help reduce the pain scale and promote a sense of well-being.

Furthermore, TENS may operate through the pain gate mechanism. According to the Gate Control Theory of Pain, electrical signals can effectively block the transmission of pain messages to the brain by engaging the “gates” in the spinal cord. Overwhelming the pain signals with the sensation of TENS treatment can diminish the perception of the ailment.

The stimulation for pain relief can also influence blood flow in the body. The electrical stimulation from TENS can cause vasodilation. This is the widening of blood vessels. Hence, this can promote healing and reduce discomfort by providing essential nutrients and oxygen to the body tissues. Overall, these mechanisms contribute to the therapeutic benefits of TENS therapy.


TENS offer a broad array of benefits. Foremost, TENS therapy is non-invasive. It does not require any surgical procedures or the penetration of the skin. Secondly, TENS is drug-free. Therefore, it provides a non-pharmacological treatment for pain. Thirdly, TENS devices are portable. Many units are compact and lightweight, allowing individuals to use them at home, work, or on the go.

Fourthly, TENS devices are often customisable. This offers users the ability to adjust the settings to suit their specific needs. Also, TENS therapy is generally cost-effective. This eliminates the ongoing medication expenses or more invasive pain management interventions.

A woman manually operating TENS on her hand

How to Conduct Electrical Nerve Stimulation TENS

When conducting electrical nerve stimulation TENS, there are several key steps to follow. Firstly, ensure that the device is adequately charged or has fresh batteries. Secondly, connect the electrode patches to the central unit or a smartphone via Bluetooth for wireless. Thirdly, identify the treatment area and clean and dry the skin to remove any oil, lotion, creams, and dirt.

Then, position the sets of electrodes. It is crucial to follow the proper electrode placement in the step for effective relief. Once the electrodes are in place, the user can turn on the device. TENS may allow the individual to adjust the settings or choose a pre-set program. Nevertheless, professionals recommend starting with the lowest settings and gradually increasing them to a comfortable level.

During the TENS treatment, the individual should be attentive to any sensations they experience. Accordingly, the duration of the TENS session can vary depending on individual needs. Typically, the session lasts between 15 to 30 minutes. After the TENS therapy, turn off the device and carefully remove the electrode patches from the skin.

When to See a Doctor?

If the individual is experiencing a new or undiagnosed ailment, it is advisable to seek medical evaluation. This is particularly important when the cause of pain is unknown. Furthermore, if the person experiences any adverse effects or reactions during or after TENS therapy, it is essential to consult a healthcare professional. This warrants a pain assessment and adjustment of TENS parameters.

Additionally, it is vital to seek medical attention if there is a skin irritation or rash at the electrode placement site. Moreover, muscle twitching that is not relieved by adjusting the TENS settings may signal the need to consult a medical professional.


In conclusion, electrical nerve stimulation TENS is a valuable technique for managing discomfort. It uses a wired or wireless device to deliver electrical currents to the body. TENS units also offer various features to cater to individual needs. Accordingly, the electrical stimulation works based on the pain gate mechanism, the production of endorphins, and improving blood flow. With such mechanisms, it can treat conditions like labour pain, fibromyalgia, nerve entrapment syndromes, osteoarthritis, and muscle strain.

Furthermore, TENS offers a broad range of benefits. It is non-invasive, drug-free, portable, customisable, and cost-effective. Moreover, conducting TENS requires several simple steps. One needs to prepare the device, identify the treatment location, place the pads and adjust the settings. Nevertheless, it is crucial to know the signs when to see a doctor. This aspect promotes the safe and effective use of TENS therapy. TENS devices are available in stores, including the online retailer iTENS Australia.

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