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

TENS Machine IBS: A Complete Guide

A woman experiencing abdominal pain due to IBS

Suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can be uncomfortable and debilitating. It causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and irregular bowel motions. One potential treatment option is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy. It uses a portable TENS machine for IBS to deliver mild electrical impulses to the affected area, providing pain relief and reducing symptoms. It also involves the proper operation and placement of electrode pads for effective pain management.

IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder. It is a chronic condition that requires long-term treatment. In addition, it may develop due to high-stress levels, severe infections, and damage to the nerves in the digestive system. Fortunately, people with IBS may use a TENS machine to relieve various symptoms without the need for prescription or over-the-counter medications. In this guide, we will explore the mechanisms behind the TENS machine, how to operate the unit and safety precautions for consideration.

Mechanisms of Action Behind TENS Machine for IBS

There are several mechanisms of action on how a TENS machine for IBS works. The first is the pain gate mechanism. The TENS unit sends low-voltage electrical currents through the skin to stimulate the nerves. This causes the nerve fibres in the spinal cord to close, blocking the pain signals from reaching the brain.

The second mechanism involves the production of endorphins. A low electrical stimulation level triggers the release of natural painkillers. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors that inhibit pain messages from being sent to the brain. Additionally, a TENS machine improves blood circulation in the area. This helps reduce inflammation and relax the muscles, alleviating abdominal cramps from IBS.

Moreover, TENS therapy has been shown to have a positive impact on the brain-gut axis, which plays a crucial role in the development of IBS symptoms. By modulating the communication between the brain and the gut, TENS machines can help to regulate gastrointestinal functions and reduce severe pain. Overall, it interferes with the pain signals, releases endorphins, increases blood flow and modulates the brain-gut axis.

Benefits of TENS Therapy

  • TENS provides a non-invasive and drug-free method of pain relief. The natural approach minimises the adverse side effects that are common with medications.
  • The TENS machine can help reduce abdominal pain and cramping from IBS.
  • It can help relax the muscles in the abdomen that contribute to pain.
  • TENS therapy can help improve digestion and reduce bloating.
  • A TENS machine can provide quick relief during flare-ups.
  • TENS therapy can help modulate nerve activity in the gut, potentially minimising the severity of symptoms.
  • It promotes relaxation and stress reduction. Thus, it helps decrease the frequency of waking up due to abdominal discomfort.

Peeling the cover of the TENS pad

How to Operate a TENS Machine for IBS

Operating a TENS machine for IBS is quick and easy. Start by placing the electrodes on the abdomen in a way that covers the affected area. Make sure the machine is turned off before placing the TENS pads to avoid any discomfort. Once the electrodes are in place, turn on the unit and adjust the settings.

Set the frequency between high (50-120 Hz) or low (2-10 Hz) depending on the severity of your symptoms. Next, adjust the intensity setting starting at the lowest level. Gradually increase the intensity to a comfortable level until there is a mild tingling or tapping sensation. Health experts often recommend using the device for about 20-30 minutes per session, several times a day as needed.

While in use, allow a reasonable time for the body to respond to the electrical stimulation. After the therapy session, turn off the device first before removing the electrode pads.  With regular use, many people find significant improvement in their IBS symptoms. Remember to keep track of how the treatment affects the symptoms and adjust the settings accordingly.

Placement of the Adhesive Electrodes

The placement of adhesive electrode pads for IBS may vary depending on where the pain is most felt. Generally, for IBS pain, place the pads on either side of the navel. This can help target the nerves that are causing bloating, muscle spasms, and other discomforts.

For pelvic pain, attach the pads just below the abdomen and above the mons pubis. It is essential to alter the pad placement depending on where the pain is most intense. Furthermore, some people may find it helpful to place the electrodes on the lower back or on the sides of the abdomen.

Wireless TENS machines in small and large wings from iTENS Australia

Safety Precautions When Using a TENS Machine for IBS

When using a TENS machine for IBS pain relief, it is essential to follow some safety precautions. Firstly, always follow the recommended settings (frequency, intensity, pulse duration). Avoid turning the intensity or frequency to high levels to prevent overstimulation. Possible adverse effects may include skin irritation, burns, or muscle fatigue.

Secondly, avoid using a TENS device on certain areas, such as the head, neck, and near the heart. This is crucial to prevent stimulation of the sensitive nerves or triggering irregular heartbeats. It is also recommended to avoid pad placement on broken or irritated skin, as this can cause further discomfort or complications.

Thirdly, people with an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator should consult a doctor before using the TENS device. The electrical pulses from the TENS machine may interfere with the function of these devices. Also, pregnant women should not use the TENS machine on the abdomen, as it may induce contractions. Lastly, avoid bathing, sleeping, or driving with a TENS unit on.

When to See a Doctor?

While TENS therapy can be beneficial, it is vital to seek medical care under certain circumstances. Any worsening IBS symptoms despite treatment may prompt a doctor visit. This includes persistent changes to bowel movements, rectal bleeding, unexplained vomiting, weight loss, and diarrhoea at night. Consulting a specialist can help determine any underlying issues.

Additionally, individuals should consult a doctor if there are unusual side effects that do not disappear after device usage. The side effects may include increased pain, skin irritation, or muscle weakness. Lastly, if there is any uncertainty about using a TENS machine, it is best to seek medical advice.


Using a TENS machine for IBS pain management can be a helpful treatment option. The portable device offers a drug-free and non-invasive method of pain relief. It works by stimulating the nerves to block pain signals and releasing endorphins. It also helps to improve circulation and promote muscle relaxation. Moreover, the TENS machine has adjustable settings to suit individual needs and preferences. By following proper electrode placement and settings adjustment, individuals can manage pain effectively.

Following safety precautions is also crucial to avoid potential risks or side effects. One of the things to avoid is setting the intensity too high that it causes further discomfort. Also, it is best to refrain from use on sensitive areas. Remember to monitor how the treatment affects the symptoms and make adjustments as necessary. With regular use, many people can find relief from the symptoms of inflammatory bowel diseases.

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