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TENS What Is It?

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What is TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. It is a type of treatment that uses electrical currents to help relieve pain. During TENS therapy, people place small electrodes on the skin, sending electrical impulses to the nerves. These impulses can help reduce pain signals sent to the brain, providing relief for a variety of conditions. Moreover, TENS devices are available in wired or wireless options, allowing for flexibility and ease of use.

Pain affects millions of people worldwide, whether it is acute or chronic. Traditional methods of managing pain often involve pain medications, physical therapy, heat therapy, and exercises. However, it is crucial to recognise that these methods may not always provide consistent pain relief. As a result, many people seek alternative remedies to effectively manage their conditions. This article will provide more information about TENS therapy, including its mechanisms and the medical conditions it can assist in treating.

What is TENS?

What is TENS is a method of pain relief that uses a portable electronic device. It typically consists of a control unit and sets of electrodes. The adhesive electrode pads send electrical currents to stimulate the nearby sensory nerves to reduce pain in adults. Moreover, there are two types of TENS 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 connect to a smartphone app. It is popular among people who prefer convenient and on-the-go pain management. Nevertheless, both types deliver adequate electric currents.

The TENS electrodes are interchangeable in different sizes and shapes. This can help fit different areas of the body and deliver appropriate stimulation levels. Additionally, the pads 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.

History of TENS

  • TENS treatment was first introduced in the 1960s.
  • Electrical nerve stimulation was developed as an alternative to more intrusive pain management methods, such as medication or surgery.
  • Originally, TENS was primarily utilised in the field of anesthesiology. It relieves pain during surgeries.
  • Physiotherapists started to adopt TENS as a non-pharmacological pain management tool.
  • In the 1970s, healthcare professionals used TENS to aid chronic and acute pain conditions.
  • The TENS machine became more widely available to patients for home use in the 1980s.
  • Today, practitioners apply the TENS technique in physiotherapy to manage a wide range of medical conditions.

iTENS small wing kit with written features

What is TENS and How Does It Work?

What is TENS works by delivering low-voltage electrical pulses to the affected area to help relieve pain and improve muscle function. Individuals can select low frequencies that typically range from one to nine Hz to help trigger the production of endorphins. The effective analgesia from natural pain-relieving chemicals can relieve chronic pain conditions.

Moreover, users can set the frequency to high levels, at 50 to 120 Hz, for pain-gating activation. The electrical impulses travel through the nerves, which can help to interrupt pain signals sent to the brain. This essentially confuses the brain, as it is unable to process both the pain and the electrical signals simultaneously, resulting in a reduction in pain perception.

People can experience the various mechanisms of TENS when they apply it correctly. Thus, they must ensure the electrode placements and intensity levels are appropriate for their specific condition. They should attach the patches directly on or on either side of the painful area. Also, they can place them along the path of the affected nerves to effectively target the source of pain.

Main Theories at Work

TENS operates based on two main theories. The first one is the Gate Control Theory of Pain. According to it, applying electrical stimulation through TENS can stimulate the sensory nerves and activate the larger A-beta fibres. This mechanism helps close the pain gate in the spinal cord, inhibiting the transmission of pain messages to the brain.

The second one is the endorphin release theory. Endorphins are natural painkillers the human body produces. Health professionals believe TENS can enhance their production. Endorphins can bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to produce analgesic effects.

A man holding his lower back with two hands

What is TENS, and What are the Types of Pain It Can Help With?

What is TENS finds applications in managing various types of pain in adults. In cases of acute pain, such as primary dysmenorrhoea, postoperative pain, labour pain, or muscle sprains, this therapy proves beneficial. By emitting controlled and continuous pulse patterns, they help alleviate pain and promote faster recovery. For instance, after surgery, people can strategically place these devices to target the affected area, providing relief and supporting the healing process.

For chronic pain lasting for more than three months, TENS medical devices play a crucial role. Conditions like diabetic neuropathy, chronic low-back pain, sciatica, fibromyalgia, or rheumatoid arthritis often involve persistent discomfort. Electric stimulation provides a means of managing this enduring pain without relying solely on medications. By modulating nerve signals, these electrical devices contribute to pain relief over extended periods.

Beyond specific conditions, electric nerve stimulation devices address the more general concern of body aches. Whether it is localised pain in joints like wrists, elbows, and knees or a pervasive sense of soreness, these devices offer targeted relief. Users can place electrode patches on specific areas of discomfort, tailoring the effective treatment to their needs.

Benefits of TENS Therapy

People can receive numerous benefits when they undergo or buy a portable TENS machine. Firstly, it is non-invasive and drug-free. Secondly, the device is portable and easy to use. It is more compact and lightweight compared to the electrotherapy machines in healthcare settings.

Thirdly, it provides personalised pain relief through customisable programs. The device has adjustable settings, such as intensity, pulse rate or frequency, and pulse width or duration. This allows individuals to control the stimulation based on their comfort level. Lastly, TENS devices are cost-effective. They minimise the need to go to pain clinics.


In conclusion, what is TENS offers a portable and effective method of pain relief utilising low-voltage electrical pulses. By stimulating sensory nerves, it triggers the production of endorphins for natural pain relief. TENS can also interrupt pain signals from reaching the brain through high-frequency pulses. Whether using a standard or wireless device, users can experience temporary relief. Proper electrode placement and settings adjustment are crucial for optimal results.

TENS therapy offers a versatile and effective solution for managing various types of pain in adults. It provides targeted relief for acute conditions like postoperative pain or muscle sprains. Additionally, it offers effective management for chronic ailments such as diabetic neuropathy or fibromyalgia. With portable and customisable devices, people can tailor treatment to their needs, enjoying cost-effective pain management without the reliance on medications. People interested in wireless TENS devices may check iTENS Australia.

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