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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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Electrical Nerve Stimulation: What It Is, the Mechanisms, and the Treatable Conditions

A newscaster reporting about TENS as a new pain relief

Electrical nerve stimulation is an innovative form of treatment gaining popularity in the medical field. It involves using a handy electronic device that produces mild electric currents. Then, impulses stimulate the body to block the pain messages commonly passing through the nervous system. This type of therapy for pain relief also triggers the release of endorphins, leading to better pain control. The stimulation can effectively manage various painful conditions, like musculoskeletal pain, fibromyalgia, cancer pain, arthritis, and stump pain.

Typically, doctors prescribe medicines to deal with pain in adults. Moreover, physical therapists recommend exercise. However, these methods of pain relief may not always work as intended. In some cases, they may cause adverse events. Hence, finding an alternative treatment, such as electric nerve stimulation, is essential. Understanding its components can help individuals make informed decisions about their healthcare. Thus, the article will present its definition, mechanisms of action, and treatable conditions.

What is Electrical Nerve Stimulation?

Electrical nerve stimulation is a treatment method that involves electrical pulses to stimulate the nerve fibres in the body. Professionals and individuals often utilise this technique to relieve pain, improve muscle function, and promote healing. This form of electrotherapy can be delivered through various devices, including Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) units.

TENS machines are portable electrical devices. Its most common type is the handheld or wired model. It has a cable that connects the generator to the electrode patches. Another in-demand TENS unit is the wireless. The sets of electrode pads are attached directly to the skin. Additionally, users can control the stimulation through a smartphone or tablet.

The stimulators typically have adjustable settings. People can choose the appropriate level depending on their condition, whether it is chronic or acute pain. Customising the settings or selecting a pre-set mode can also be based on their needs and preferences. Overall, electric nerve stimulation is a form of pain relief that does not require drug intake or needle insertion.

Importance in Pain Management

  • Electric nerve stimulation offers a non-invasive alternative to pain management. Hence, people unable to tolerate or do not respond well to medication can rely on it.
  • Patients may require less painkillers or other medicines because of the stimulator. Consequently, this can reduce the risk of side effects and dependency.
  • Individuals needing fast-acting pain relievers have the option to turn to electrical stimulation for immediate relief.
  • Utilising electrical nerve stimulators is cost-effective. It reduces the need for constant medication adjustments for users with chronic pain conditions.
  • Electrical stimulation, such as TENS, can target specific pain sites. Thus, it provides localised relief without affecting the entire body.

An elderly woman sitting while using TENS and reading a book

The Mechanisms Behind Electrical Nerve Stimulation

The mechanisms behind electrical nerve stimulation involve activating nerve fibres to manage pain using low-level electrical currents. Doing so can also rehabilitate muscles and stimulate various bodily functions. This process utilises the placement of electrode patches on the skin to deliver electrical stimuli to the targeted area. As a result, pain gating and endorphin production occur.

Pain gating is a phenomenon in which other sensory stimuli, such as those produced by electric nerve stimulation, interrupt or block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. When a mild electric current is applied to the nerves, it can close the “gate” and prevent the sensation of pain from reaching conscious awareness.

Releasing endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body, is another response to electrical stimulation. This happens when the electrical impulses from the stimulation trigger the release of these neurotransmitters in the brain. Endorphins interact with the opiate receptors in the brain, reducing pain perception and promoting a sense of well-being and relaxation.

Benefits of Electrical Stimulation

Electrical stimulation or e-stim is a non-invasive and drug-free therapy. Thus, there is minimal to no risk of side effects or complications associated with this treatment. Also, pain in adults is manageable at home. Individuals do not need to go to a pain clinic to undergo e-stim sessions. Instead, they can buy a personal machine to use anytime and anywhere.

In addition to healing properties, e-stim can help improve muscle strength, endurance, and coordination. This can be especially important for athletes and individuals looking to enhance their athletic performance or recover from muscle-related injuries. Nevertheless, people should consult a professional beforehand for optional safety.

A woman sitting while touching her aching lower back and shoulder

Types of Conditions that Can be Treated with Electrical Nerve Stimulation

People can depend on electrical nerve stimulation to treat painful conditions. One of these is chronic pain conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis pain is an example. People with cancer pain can also utilise stimulators to manage discomfort. Moreover, fibromyalgia and bursitis are treatable. Additionally, those with neuropathic pain, such as diabetic neuropathy, stump or phantom pain, and postherpetic neuralgia, can rely on e-stim.

Electric nerve stimulation can also help manage acute pain conditions. These include postoperative pain, period pain, and labour pain. Also, people with musculoskeletal pain can use e-stim to relieve discomfort. For instance, this effective treatment method can alleviate back pain, shoulder pain, and knee joint pain. Furthermore, it has been used to address bladder control issues, such as overactive bladder or urinary incontinence.

The nerve stimulators have also shown promise in treating mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. By targeting specific areas of the brain involved in mood regulation, this therapy can help alleviate symptoms and improve the overall well-being of individuals struggling with these mental health disorders.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

Yes, there are potential side effects. These may include skin irritation or redness around the electrode placement. To help prevent this risk, people should use hypoallergenic pads. Also, they should avoid attaching the electrode patches on areas with broken skin.

In addition, individuals may experience muscle soreness or fatigue. Muscle contraction is a normal response and usually subsides shortly after the session ends. To help alleviate sores, gently stretch and massage the affected area. Furthermore, some may feel a tingling or prickling sensation. This is generally not considered harmful and should decrease as the body becomes accustomed to the treatment.


Electrical nerve stimulation is an effective therapy that helps with pain control. It utilises an electric device with electrode pads to send mild pulses to the body. These modulate the nervous system and alleviate discomfort. The mechanisms behind this method of pain relief lie in its ability to interfere with pain messages and promote the release of endorphins. However, the effects may vary from person to person. Thus, people should consult a medical practitioner to determine if e-stim is appropriate.

Stimulation for pain relief can manage the symptoms of different medical conditions. These include reducing the moderate pain from arthritis, bursitis, or fibromyalgia. Moreover, it can lessen neuropathic pain and period pain. Furthermore, it offers relief during labour. As further research and technological advancements continue to enhance the capabilities of electric nerve stimulation, it is likely to become an increasingly valuable tool in managing pain and neurological conditions.

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