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Side Effects of TENS Treatment and Preventive Measures

A woman with irritated skin on her foot and ankle

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy is a kind of electrotherapy that relieves chronic and acute pain conditions. However, like most medical treatments, it does have potential side effects. Skin irritation, allergic reaction, muscle spasms, and developed tolerance to electric stimulation are some of the side effects of TENS treatment. To prevent them, people may consult healthcare professionals before using TENS. They must also stay alert and check for any adverse effects during treatment.

For many, TENS therapy treatment is an effective method of pain relief. However, misusing TENS machines may cause adverse effects. It is to seek medical attention if the individual experiences persistent symptoms, like excessive muscle twitching. This article will present the different side effects people may experience, such as skin irritation, allergic reactions, muscle spasms, and developed tolerance to electric stimulation, and preventive measures for them.

Side Effects of TENS Treatment – Skin Irritation and Allergic Reaction

People typically use TENS therapy as a pain management method. However, like any medical procedure, it does have potential adverse effects. Two common side effects of TENS treatment are skin irritation and allergic reactions. Although rare, some individuals sensitive to the materials of electrodes or gel may experience allergic reactions. Thus, it is essential to closely monitor for any reactions, especially during the first session. Moreover, they may consider using hypoallergenic TENS pads.

Furthermore, others may experience skin irritation while using TENS. This may manifest as redness, itching, or rashes underneath the electrodes. This is typically caused by prolonged use of the adhesive pads. This is why it is ideal to take breaks in between sessions and avoid overusing the machine.

For many, the irritation is mild and temporary. However, overusing the machine at high frequencies may cause electrical burns. To prevent this, it is recommended to use lower unit settings. They may also check underneath the pads every ten minutes to ensure the area is not irritated. Lastly, they may turn the machine off to give the irritated skin a break from electric stimulation.

Pad Placement Guidelines

Proper adhesion and electrode placement are crucial for effective pain relief. Here are some guidelines people may follow:

  • Clean the skin with soap and water before attaching the electrodes. This removes excess body oils, which may hinder the pads from sticking.
  • Attach the electrode pads near or on the origin of the pain. This allows for the effective delivery of electric currents to the body.
  • Avoid sensitive areas like the throat, spinal cord, chest, eyes, and top of the head.
  • Abstain from placing pads on irritated, infected, or broken skin because it may worsen its condition.

A man holding his pained back

Side Effects of TENS Treatment – Muscle Spasms

TENS machines use high and low frequencies and intensities to address different types of pain. It is commonly used in physical therapy to help with rehabilitation. However, some may experience muscle spasms as one of the side effects of TENS treatment. This is more likely to occur while using high frequencies because this level may cause the muscles to contract temporarily.

Generally, muscle spasms are temporary and not harmful. However, some may feel discomfort, and it may interfere with the effectiveness of the treatment. Thus, it is essential to monitor the intensity and duration of the session. It is vital to start at low frequency and intensity levels and gradually increase them to prevent muscle twitching.

An individual may have a few options if they are experiencing muscle twitching. One option is to lower the intensity and frequency to a comfortable level. Furthermore, they may turn the device off and stop the electrical pulses to give the muscles a break. However, they may consult a medical professional if the muscle spasms become excessive and cause muscle pain.

What to Do When Symptoms Persist

It is crucial to take action and seek medical treatment from a health professional if the individual experiences persisting symptoms. Ignoring such symptoms may lead to worsening health conditions and potential complications. Persisting symptoms may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Thus, they may schedule an appointment with a doctor who can evaluate the symptoms and provide a diagnosis. In addition, they may do testing and refer the individual to a specialist for further evaluation and treatment. It is important to maintain honest and open communication with the healthcare team so they may address the persistent symptoms effectively.

A man clutching his pained neck and lower back

Side Effects of TENS Treatment – Developed Tolerance to Electrical Stimulation

A developed tolerance to electrical stimulation is also one of the possible side effects of TENS treatment. TENS therapy uses low-voltage electrical currents to trigger spinal nerve cells to block pain signals from reaching the brain and induce endorphin production. It is generally considered an effective and safe treatment for various acute and chronic pain conditions.

However, frequent use of high-frequency stimulation may cause a development of tolerance to electrical nerve stimulation. This means that over time, the body may become less responsive to electrotherapy. This may reduce the effectiveness of TENS therapy. Furthermore, it may require higher intensities and longer durations to achieve the same level of pain relief.

It is best to seek advice from a healthcare professional before using electrotherapy devices. They may advise on the duration, regularity, and settings for the specific condition. Furthermore, studies have found using higher intensities is a critical factor in preventing the development of analgesic tolerance. Another way to delay the development of tolerance is to use TENS in modulating frequencies.

Potential Application Strategies for Effective Relief

By exploring different application strategies, people may experience better pain relief using TENS units. It is generally recommended to place the electrode pads near or on the pain area. For example, TENS pads are commonly placed on the lower back and behind the leg for sciatica. In addition, people may attach electrode patches about two inches underneath the skull on the back of the neck for neck pain.

Individuals may also use different programs and preset modes tailored to specific conditions and body parts available on their TENS unit. Moreover, they may manually adjust the settings to discover which levels provide them optimal pain relief.


TENS therapy is effective in providing short-term relief for various pain conditions. It uses high and low frequencies of electric stimulation to address chronic or acute pain. However, there are some side effects of TENS treatment. It includes skin irritation, allergic reactions, muscle spasms, and developed tolerance for electric stimulation. Often, besides allergic reactions, these are caused by misuse of the device. People may prevent these by seeking advice from healthcare professionals.

Proper electrode placement is crucial for delivering effective pain relief. Generally, electrode patches are placed near or on the origin of pain, which enables targeted pain relief. However, users must avoid placing them in sensitive areas or on broken skin. In addition, individuals should use FDA-cleared TENS devices. This ensures the reliability and quality of the unit. One option is the iTENS from iTENS Australia. It is a wireless unit with hypoallergenic wing-shaped pads.

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