Australian Registered Medical Device

Same day dispatch

12-month warranty

Professionally endorsed

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

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve: What It Is & the Mechanisms of Action

A small and large wing iTENS with refill gel pads

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief that uses an electrical device to deliver electrical currents to the body. Accordingly, TENS operates behind various mechanisms of action. Firstly, the electrical pulses can block the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Secondly, TENS therapy can trigger the production and release of endorphins. These are the natural painkillers of the body. Lastly, it can influence blood circulation in the treatment area.

There is a wide range of treatment options for various painful conditions. Individuals usually incorporate physical therapy. However, they may not always provide adequate relief. Consequently, some may use medications or surgeries. Even so, they can have side effects or require long recovery periods. Fortunately, technological advances have led to the development of the treatment of pain conditions such as TENS. This article will present TENS, including its mechanisms of action and the types of pain it can treat.

What is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a therapeutic technique that uses electric currents for pain relief. The current devices can stream electrical pulses through electrode patches people place on the skinPain clinics and individuals alike use TENS for a variety of relief purposes. It is a method that is particularly popular among physical therapists, athletes, and people suffering from a range of conditions.

There are two main types of TENS devices: traditional and wireless. Traditional TENS units are compact devices connected to the electrode pads through physical wires. On the other hand, wireless TENS units offer more convenience and mobility. They eliminate the need for cables, allowing users to engage in daily activities without interruption. These devices often come with rechargeable batteries.

The features of the units vary, but standard functionalities include adjustable settings. It lets users personalise the treatment parameters like pulse frequency, intensity, and duration. Additionally, they have multiple electrical stimulation modes such as massage, burst, or continuous. Nevertheless, individuals can purchase the TENS machine from various physical and online stores.

Clinical Evidence of TENS

  • Researchers have conducted numerous clinical trials or clinical practices to assess the effectiveness of TENS. The primary outcomes are positive, providing quality evidence.
  • The Cochrane Review, renowned for its systematic review of treatment studies, highlight the potential benefits of TENS. It critically examines the evidence from multiple clinical trials to offer an objective consensus on the efficacy of TENS.
  • In studies comparing TENS with placebo treatments, TENS often shows superior results. These comparisons are crucial for validating the effectiveness of TENS. It helps to rule out the possibility that the results are due to a placebo effect rather than the actual treatment.

A news anchor reporting about TENS as a new faster pain relief solution

Mechanisms of Action of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

One mechanism of action behind Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is the Pain Gate Theory. It suggests that the electrical impulses from TENS can block or reduce the pain signals going to the brain. The body has a natural control system where the electrical pulses can close “gates” in the spinal cord to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. Hence, it reduces the perception of discomfort.

Accordingly, when the TENS unit delivers electrical currents to the nerve fibres, it helps release endorphins. These are the natural chemicals of the body that act as natural painkillers. Endorphins bind to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Thus, it reduces pain sensations and creates a feeling of well-being. Nevertheless, this activity contributes to the natural relief.

Furthermore, TENS therapy has been found to improve blood flow to the area in which it is applied. Increased blood circulation can help speed up the healing process and reduce inflammation. As a result, it can decrease discomfort. Enhanced circulation brings more oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues. This mechanism promotes tissue repair and reduces muscle spasms.

Frequencies and Intensities

The effectiveness of TENS significantly depends on two adjustable settings: frequency and intensity. Frequency, measured in Hertz (Hz), refers to the number of electrical currents delivered to the body per second. Users can set it to low or high frequencies. Low-frequency TENS or acupuncture-like TENS (below 10 Hz) encourages endorphin production. Meanwhile, high frequencies (above 50 Hz) are used to block pain signals.

On the other hand, intensity describes the strength of the electrical currents and is measured in Milliamps (mA). It determines how intense the electrical sensation feels. The proper intensity should produce a strong yet comfortable sensation but not cause discomfort.

A woman using TENS on her lower back

Types of Pain Treated with Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation stands out as a versatile therapy capable of addressing a wide range of conditions. Foremost, TENS can treat chronic pain conditions. It persists for months or even years. It may include fibromyalgia and backaches. Secondly, TENS can manage acute pain. These are moderate pain that comes suddenly. It often arises from postoperative pain, labour pain, and primary dysmenorrhea.

Thirdly, TENS treatment can aid neuropathic pain. It is characterised by nerve damage or dysfunction. Conditions such as phantom pain, diabetic neuropathy, and sciatica fall into this category. Fourthly, TENS therapy is beneficial for musculoskeletal pain. It affects the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. It may include rheumatoid arthritis, joint conditions, and osteoarthritis.

Moreover, muscle discomfort, which includes strains, spasms, and overuse injuries, benefits from the targeted applications of TENS. The electrical pulses help to loosen tight muscles and increase blood circulation to the area. Hence, it promotes faster healing and reduces the risk of further injury. Overall, TENS therapy is a valuable tool for managing various conditions.

Are There Potential Side Effects?

While TENS is safe, there are potential side effects. Firstly, minor skin irritation is a common concern. Cleaning and drying the skin before applying electrode pads is vital to mitigate this. Also, regularly checking the skin can help eliminate this effect. Secondly, muscle twitching may occur. Hence, users should carefully adjust the TENS unit to a comfortable level to avoid involuntary muscle contractions.

In addition, an allergic reaction can occur due to the materials used in the adhesive pads. It can lead to redness, itching, or swelling. Opting for hypoallergenic pads or patches designed for sensitive skin can significantly reduce this risk.


In conclusion, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a valuable treatment option for pain relief. It is a therapy that uses a device to deliver electrical currents to the body. These devices are available in traditional and wireless forms. Accordingly, there are mechanisms of action behind TENS. It may include the pain gate mechanism, endorphin release, and blood flow enhancement. Additionally, TENS can stream the electrical pulses in different frequencies and intensities. Nevertheless, TENS provides clinical evidence.

With such mechanisms, TENS therapy can treat various types of conditions. It can manage both acute and chronic conditions. Furthermore, TENS is beneficial for addressing neuropathic, musculoskeletal and muscular discomforts. However, while TENS is safe, knowing the potential side effects is crucial. It may include skin irritation, muscle twitching, or allergic reactions. Nevertheless, consulting a medical professional and adhering to proper electrode placement are essential in the therapy.

Best Sellers

Shopping Cart
Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop
Calculate Shipping

We have detected you are from the United States

We ship to all locations within the United States.
Prices will be automatically converted into USD.

Would you like to add extra Gel Pads?

Would you like to add extra Gel Pads?

Would you like to add extra Gel Pads?


The item you’re adding to your cart doesn’t have any gel pads.

Note: iTENS wings should always be used with a gel pad.