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Pain Relief TENS: Can It Improve the Quality of Life?

A man holding his nape and lower back

Pain relief TENS is a method that can improve the quality of life for people suffering from pain. It involves using a portable electronic device that sends low-voltage electrical pulses to the body. These pulses work by blocking the pain signals, providing relief from discomfort. Additionally, the device triggers the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers from the body. The effectiveness of TENS is supported by clinical evidence.

Pain management options include oral medications, physical exercise, and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy. People often choose analgesics due to their accessibility and affordability. However, long-term use of oral painkillers can result in adverse side effects. On the other hand, using a TENS machine is a non-toxic and non-invasive method of pain management. This article will present what TENS is, including how it works and the clinical evidence backing its use.

What is a Pain Relief TENS?

Pain relief TENS is an effective treatment method that uses a portable electronic device that transmits mild electrical pulses to the body. It has a handheld control unit where users can adjust the patterns of electrical stimulation. It then connects to adhesive electrodes, typically by wires. However, several modern units utilise Bluetooth technology to operate the device.

wireless TENS machine is more compact and lightweight due to the wireless electrode pads. It also eliminates the need for holding a remote control. This device type allows for more flexible movements or range of motion during the treatment. Hence, individuals can combine TENS with other methods like exercise and acupuncture for pain relief.

Aside from adjustable settings, the TENS machine features several preset modes. The number of programs may depend on the specific brand or model. These programs have fixed settings designed for a particular condition to give optimal relief. Thus, it is vital to check if the TENS unit has a treatment mode for a specific pain condition.

Treatable Conditions

  • Acute pain conditions: refer to sudden and intense pain that typically lasts for a short period. This includes post-operative pain, fractures, broken bones, labour pain, muscle sprain, and period pain.
  • Chronic pain conditions: refer to ongoing pain that persists for more than three months, even after the initial injury or illness has healed. These include conditions such as sciatica, fibromyalgia, ankle tendonitis, frozen shoulder and arthritis pain.
  • Body aches: it can be a general feeling of soreness or localised pain in specific areas. This includes wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, hips, thighs, hands, or feet.

Step-by-step guide on how to operate the iTENS app

How Does a Pain Relief TENS Work?

Pain relief TENS works by sending electrical currents through electrode patches that people place on the skin surface. These currents produce two general responses from the body, particularly the central nervous system. The first method is based on the Gate Control Theory of Pain. During TENS treatment, the pain gate mechanism in the spinal cord closes. Therefore, it inhibits the transmission of pain signals to the brain.

The second method involves the stimulation of endorphin production. The body produces more endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors and inhibit them from sending pain messages. They are also known as natural painkillers as they have similar effects to morphine.

The use of a TENS machine has a positive impact on the circulatory system. The electrical pulses or mild vibrations boost blood circulation in the affected area. This helps to reduce inflammation, relax the muscles, and promote faster recovery of damaged tissues and nerve regeneration. Overall, these mechanisms make TENS machines a valuable tool in pain management.

How to Use

Using a TENS machine for back pain involves a few simple steps. Firstly, individuals should clean the treatment area by removing any lotion, oil, or dirt. Secondly, place the electrodes on or near the pain area. It is vital to avoid areas with broken skin, open wounds, and infection.

Thirdly, turn on the unit and set the pulse rate, pulse amplitude, and pulse duration according to the instructions provided. It is advisable to start at the lowest settings and gradually increase if necessary. The treatment sessions range from 30 to 45 minutes. However, individuals may continue the therapy after a 20-minute break.

iTENS small wing kit with six replacement gel pads

Clinical Evidence Supporting the Use of Pain Relief TENS

Pain relief TENS has been proven effective in clinical studies. Researchers have conducted numerous trials and studies that have shown the positive impact of TENS in managing various types of pain. These include musculoskeletal, neuropathic, and postoperative pain.

In a study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, researchers found that TENS was effective in reducing musculoskeletal pain in cancer patients. Another study in the Journal of Clinical Nursing demonstrated the benefits of TENS for neuropathic pain in diabetic patients. These findings provide strong clinical evidence supporting the use of TENS as a non-invasive and drug-free pain relief method.

Furthermore, a review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews analysed multiple clinical trials. The conclusion was that TENS is an effective and safe option for pain relief, especially in chronic pain conditions. The evidence from these clinical studies supports the use of TENS as an alternative or adjunct to pharmacological pain management. Therefore, people can have peace of mind.

Are There Potential Adverse Effects?

There is a minimal risk of adverse effects from using a TENS unit. It may occur due to incorrect device usage or not taking the necessary precautions. The potential side effects include skin irritation and dizziness. However, these often disappear after removing the electrodes.

TENS may not be suitable for people with heart conditions, epilepsy, pacemakers, and pregnant women. Moreover, using the device on the head, throat, and chest may lower blood pressure and other unpleasant effects. To ensure safe pain management, individuals should consider seeking advice from a healthcare professional before using the device.


In summary, a pain relief TENS machine offers a non-invasive and drug-free way to manage pain. It works by sending electrical pulses to the body, which block pain signals and stimulate the production of endorphins. Additionally, it enhances blood circulation, aiding in reducing inflammation and promoting tissue recovery. The TENS device is a versatile and valuable option for those seeking relief from various types of pain. It complements other treatments like physical therapy.

Clinical studies, including those in respected journals, have confirmed its benefits. While TENS is generally safe, it can cause minor side effects like skin irritation or dizziness, usually due to incorrect use. It is not advisable for people with certain health conditions. To ensure safety and effectiveness, people should consult healthcare professionals before using TENS. Overall, TENS can improve the quality of life for individuals suffering from pain.

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