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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS Machine for Chronic Pain: What It Is and How It Works

An elderly man grimacing while holding his lower back

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS machine for chronic pain is a small device that uses electrical currents to help manage pain. It works by blocking pain signals sent to the brain. Additionally, it can trigger the release of endorphins, the natural painkillers of the body. TENS machines are portable. Thus, people can use them at home or on the go. Nevertheless, consulting a health professional before using TENS therapy is advisable.

Living with chronic pain can be challenging. The constant discomfort and limitations can make even simple daily tasks incredibly difficult. It can affect physical and mental well-being, leading to feelings of frustration, isolation, and depression. Managing chronic pain often requires a combination of treatments and lifestyle adjustments. Alternatively, people may opt to use TENS therapy. This article will present the TENS device for chronic pain, including its mechanism of action and benefits.

What is a TENS Machine for Chronic Pain?

A TENS machine for chronic pain is a portable device that can provide pain relief. It consists of a control unit and sets of electrodes. The adhesive electrode pads send electrical currents to stimulate the nearby nerves to reduce pain. Moreover, there are two types of TENS electronic devices that individuals can use: standard and wireless.

A standard TENS machine has a handheld push-button remote and wires connecting to the electrode pads. On the other hand, a wireless TENS machine utilises Bluetooth technology to access a smartphone app. It is popular among individuals who prefer convenient and on-the-go pain management. Nevertheless, both types deliver adequate electrical stimulation.

The TENS electrodes are interchangeable in different sizes and shapes. Each one can help fit various body areas and deliver appropriate stimulation levels. Additionally, the electrode patches stick firmly to the skin but do not penetrate or leave permanent marks. It is worth noting that TENS is not a cure for pain but only provides temporary relief from pain.

Examples of Chronic Pain

  • Arthritis: Joints swell and ache, making it hard to move.
  • Fibromyalgia: Muscle pain and fatigue persist for long periods.
  • Back pain: Constant lower or upper back discomfort, hindering movement.
  • Migraines: Intense headaches that cause throbbing pain and sensitivity to light.
  • Neuropathy: Nerve damage leads to sharp, shooting pains or numbness.
  • Endometriosis: Severe pelvic pain during menstruation or intercourse.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): Persistent pain in limbs after injury.
  • Sciatica: Shooting pain down the leg due to pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ): Jaw pain and stiffness affecting chewing.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): Exhaustion and muscle pain lasting for months.

iTENS small wing kit with written features

How Does a TENS Machine for Chronic Pain Work?

A TENS machine for chronic pain conditions works in several ways. Firstly, it uses low-voltage electronic pulses to block pain signals from reaching the brain via the spinal cord. Sticky electrodes attached to the skin surface deliver these electrical pulses. The machine allows the user to control the settings of the electrical impulses, ensuring a comfortable intensity and frequency. By blocking the pain messages, the TENS machine helps provide pain control.

Secondly, the TENS machine stimulates the body to release endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. The electrical impulses from the machine encourage the body to produce endorphins, which in turn help to alleviate pain. This stimulation of endorphin release can have analgesic effects, providing natural pain relief and reducing the intake of pain medications.

Lastly, the TENS machine also helps to boost blood circulation in the area where it is applied. The electrical impulses cause muscles to contract and relax, which promotes better blood flow. Improved blood circulation can enhance the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the affected area, helping to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain in people.

Low and High Frequencies

The pulse rate or frequency of the stimulation is adjustable to suit different needs or preferences. Low-frequency TENS (10 Hz and below) causes the nerves to become less sensitive. It is also the ideal setting to trigger the release of endorphins, which is beneficial for chronic pain treatment.

High-frequency electrical impulses (50-120 Hz) stimulate the sensory nerves to block pain and cause muscle contraction. They have short pulses and intensity, often strong but comfortable sensations. High-frequency current is a suitable setting for people with acute pain conditions. These conditions include primary dysmenorrhea, post-surgery pain, and labour pain.

An elderly woman reading a book while wearing iTENS on her arm

Benefits of Using a TENS Machine for Chronic Pain

A TENS machine for chronic pain management offers a multitude of benefits. Firstly, it provides a non-invasive approach to pain relief. It does not require any incisions or invasive procedures. Secondly, TENS therapy is drug-free, which further mitigates the risk of potential side effects with pharmaceutical medications.

Thirdly, the portability and ease of use of the electronic device make it highly convenient for individuals. Its compact size allows users to carry it with them wherever they go, providing pain relief anytime. Users can attach the electrode patches to the area of pain and adjust the settings to their comfort. This simplicity of use makes it accessible to individuals of all ages and abilities.

Lastly, a TENS machine is a versatile method of pain relief. It can effectively treat various types of pain. These include musculoskeletal pain, neuropathic pain, and even constant pain caused by muscular injuries, disc injuries, or degenerated joints. The analgesic effects of the TENS machine make it an ideal solution for a range of ailments and conditions.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

TENS may lead to potential side effects, including skin irritation. Some individuals might experience redness, itching, or discomfort at the application site. Healthcare professionals advise patients to monitor their skin closely during and after TENS therapy sessions. They may also advise using hypoallergenic electrode pads.

Additionally, some individuals may experience muscle spasms during electrotherapy modalities. They can happen when the electrical stimulation triggers the muscle to contract too forcefully. Moreover, TENS can interfere with metallic implants, raising the muscle tissue temperature to damaging levels. If side effects persist, seeking medical help before they become a significant concern is advisable.


In conclusion, a TENS machine for chronic pain offers portable relief by using gentle electrical pulses to block pain signals. It can also trigger the release of natural painkillers in the body. Additionally, it helps boost blood circulation, reducing inflammation and discomfort. While it is not a permanent fix, it provides temporary relief for those managing chronic pain. Hence, TENS machines offer a simple and effective way to improve the quality of life for many individuals.

In conclusion, using a TENS device for chronic pain offers numerous benefits. These include non-invasiveness, drug-free relief, portability, and versatility. However, potential side effects like skin irritation and muscle spasms can occur. Monitoring skin closely and seeking medical advice can help mitigate these risks. Despite these risks, the benefits of TENS therapy often outweigh the drawbacks, providing a valuable option for chronic pain relief.

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