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TENS For Nerve Pain: Can Electric Stimulation Help Alleviate The Condition?

An elderly woman sitting on a chair while touching her right hand

Nerve pain, also known as neuropathic pain, is a complex condition. Nerve damage, inflammation, or diseases like diabetes are the common causes. Various forms of pain relief are available to alleviate the discomfort. One of these is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS for nerve pain. It effectively reduces this pain in adults by stimulating nerves. Consequently, it stops pain messages from reaching the brain. Moreover, it enhances the release of endorphins.

Traditional pain medications provide relief, but they may come with unwanted side effects. Hence, many individuals search for alternative solutions, like TENS therapy. This type of treatment for pain conditions is drug-free, safe, and non-invasive. However, they should understand the components surrounding this method of pain relief to make informed decisions. Thus, the following sections will present what it is, how it works, and the safety guidelines to always adhere to.

What is a TENS for Nerve Pain?

TENS for nerve pain is an alternative treatment option to prescription drugs. It utilises a portable device that sends low-voltage electrical impulses through the skin to the nerves. This can help reduce the pain coming from neuropathic conditions. Traditional machines are handheld with wires, while more modern units are wireless with Bluetooth connectivity.

A TENS device is designed to be user-friendly. People wear it discreetly under clothing for long periods. It typically comes with sets of electrodes that users can place directly on the skin over the painful area. Many individuals find TENS a convenient and effective way to manage their nerve pain. They do not need to depend solely on medication or invasive procedures. However, speaking with a doctor before use is essential.

People can receive temporary relief and other positive effects, such as relaxation, from TENS. Nevertheless, they must remember that it is not a cure for the underlying cause of the pain. Professionals often use it as part of a comprehensive pain management plan that may include physical therapy, medication, and more treatments for pain.

Types of Nerve Pain that May Benefit From TENS

  • Diabetic neuropathy: Nerve damage from diabetes causes this. It leads to tingling, burning, or sharp pain in the feet and hands.
  • Sciatica: The pain radiates from the lower back down the leg, causing a shooting or electric-like sensation.
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: This is nerve pain in the wrist and hand due to compression of the median nerve.
  • Post-surgery pain: Individuals experience neuropathic pain that is sharp, burning, or achy following a surgical procedure.
  • Phantom limb pain: Nerve pain coming from a part of the body that has been amputated. It causes sensations of shooting pain in the absent limb.

An elderly woman sitting on a chair while touching her right hand

How a TENS for Nerve Pain Works

TENS for nerve pain works by delivering mild electrical pulses to the nerves. This blocks the pain signals travelling to the brain. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body. Subsequently, it can provide relief from neuropathic pain and other painful conditions without medication.

Furthermore, TENS can aid neuropathic pain by treating inflammation and reducing muscle contractions. TENS also improves blood flow around the affected area, which helps regulate nerve functioning. In addition, the electrical impulses can also reduce nerve sensitivity. This can help with neuropathic pain caused by hypersensitivity.

When using TENS, people place adhesive electrode pads on the skin near the pain site. The electrical pulses are delivered through the electrodes to the nerves. Users can adjust the settings of the electrical stimulation device depending on their pain intensity or pain level. Moreover, they can select pre-set modes for specific conditions, like regional pain syndrome and diabetic neuropathy. Since TENS is versatile, it can manage other acute and chronic pain conditions, including musculoskeletal pain in adults.

Understanding Frequencies and Intensities

Understanding the settings of TENS therapy is crucial for achieving optimal pain relief. Frequencies ranging from 2-10 Hz are commonly used to target chronic pain conditions. They activate the natural pain relief mechanisms of the body. Meanwhile, frequencies greater than 50 Hz are suitable for acute pain conditions because they increase blood circulation.

Additionally, TENS measures intensity levels in milliamperes (mA). Intensities greater than 80 mA are only recommended for short-term use. Otherwise, it can cause tissue damage. For chronic nerve pain, 15-45 mA intensities are the most suitable. These amounts provide enough stimulation to reduce discomfort without causing any adverse side effects.

A woman touching her leg

Safety Guidelines When Using TENS for Nerve Pain

When using TENS for nerve pain, following safety guidelines is necessary. Doing so avoids potential risks and ensures effective treatment. Carefully read and adhere to the instructions provided by the electrical nerve stimulation machine. Similarly, consult with a healthcare professional before undergoing TENS therapy. This is especially true for people with underlying health conditions, like pregnant women.

Another guideline is to keep the electrodes in place and avoid excessive movement to prevent skin irritation. Moreover, be mindful of the electrode placement. Attach the electrode pads away from sensitive areas, such as the eyes, the spinal cord, or the neck. Also, it is crucial not to apply the TENS pads over areas of broken skin, as this can cause further damage.

In addition, never use a TENS machine while sleeping, driving, or operating heavy machinery. The sensations from TENS can affect the ability to perform these activities safely. Furthermore, individuals should not use the device when bathing or showering. Otherwise, this can pose a risk of electrical shock. After each session, clean the device with alcohol wipes.

When to See a Doctor

If the pain persists or worsens after TENS treatment, it may be time to consult a medical professional. This is because it may signify an underlying concern. Additionally, if unexpected side effects arise or if the pain comes with new symptoms, seek medical advice promptly.

Moreover, seeing a doctor if the pain does not improve after using TENS for a reasonable period is vital. This is especially important if the pain is severe or interferes with daily activities. Furthermore, if there are any concerns about the underlying cause of pain, professionals can provide a proper diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.


TENS for nerve pain is an alternative method of pain relief. It uses a portable device that emits mild electrical currents to the affected area. Consequently, it disrupts the pain messages that typically go to the brain. Moreover, it promotes the release of endorphins and improves blood flow. Users can adjust the intensity or frequency of the electrical nerve stimulation machine to suit individual needs. Additionally, they can choose from various modes that target conditions like diabetic neuropathy.

A TENS unit is effective and easy to use. Also, it offers a non-invasive and drug-free therapy for different types of pain in adults. However, people should be cautious and follow specific guidelines. This includes properly placing the electrodes on the skin. In addition, users must make sure that the pads do not come in contact with water, broken skin, or the front of the neck. Furthermore, it is vital to avoid using TENS while driving or operating heavy machinery.

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