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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation: The Need to Know

A female newscaster reporting about TENS as a new faster pain relief

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, is a therapeutic method of pain relief. It utilises an electrical device that emits electrical currents. It streams the impulses via electrode patches attached to the skin. Consequently, this electrical stimulation works based on various analgesic mechanisms. It includes the pain gate mechanism and endorphin Release Theory. Furthermore, TENS therapy presents a multitude of benefits to users. It is versatile, non-invasive, drug-free, and complementary.

With advancements in technology and medical research, more pain management options are available. TENS stimulation for pain relief is one such treatment that is gaining popularity in the medical community. It is a safe and effective solution. It can also address various characteristics of pain or medical conditions. Individuals can undergo therapy at pain clinics or purchase a device for home use. The following sections will present TENS, its mechanisms of action and its benefits.

What is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a form of therapy. It uses a battery-operated device that delivers electric currents to the nerve fibres through electrode pads placed on the skin. Accordingly, it is widely utilised by healthcare professionals, including physical therapists. TENS therapy is suitable for many individuals suffering from mild or severe painful conditions.

TENS devices come in two primary types: wired and wireless. Wired TENS units are the traditional models. It connects the electrodes to the central machine via lead cables. Meanwhile, wireless TENS units offer greater flexibility and convenience. They operate without physical wires and can be controlled remotely. Thus, this feature allows users to move more freely and wear the device discreetly under their clothing.

Regardless of the type, TENS units typically share several key features. Most TENS device has adjustable settings. It enables individuals to customise the pulse frequency, intensity, and duration. Also, some advanced models have pre-set programs. It targets various types of pain directly. Additionally, most modern TENS units have rechargeable batteries. It makes them more economical.

History of TENS

  • 20th Century: Researchers harnessed the power of electricity to create a method of pain relief.
  • 1960s: Significant progress occurred with the Gate Control Theory proposed by researchers.
  • 1970s: The first commercial TENS units became available. These machines were initially used in clinical trials.
  • 1980s and 1990s: Advancements in technology made TENS units more accessible and user-friendly. The incorporation of microprocessors allowed for more compact and portable designs and customisable treatment parameters.
  • Over the years, TENS therapy has adapted to the digital age by introducing wireless units and smartphone integration. It enhances user experience and flexibility.

A small and large wing iTENS and refill gel pads

Mechanisms of Action of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

The effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation lies through several mechanisms. Firstly, the endorphin release mechanism comes into play. The electrical pulses trigger the release of endorphins, the natural pain-relievers of the body. Endorphins interact with opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord. Hence, it can lead to a reduction of pain intensity and produce a feeling of well-being.

Secondly, the Pain Gate Control Theory provides another explanation for the efficacy of TENS. According to this, the electrical signals stimulate the nerves in the affected area. The stimulation of these nerves essentially “closes the gate” to pain signals sent to the brain. It works on the principle that non-painful input closes the gate to painful input. Therefore, the brain registers fewer pain messages.

Lastly, TENS therapy aids in enhancing blood flow to the treatment regions. The electrical impulses encourage vasodilation. It is the widening of blood vessels. Nevertheless, this process results in an increased circulation that facilitates the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to body tissues. Additionally, it removes waste products, which reduces inflammation.

Frequencies and Intensities

Frequencies in TENS therapy refer to the number of electrical pulses delivered per second, measured in Hertz (Hz). These frequencies can be low and high. Low-frequency TENS or Acupuncture-like TENS (below 10 Hz) stimulates the production of endorphins. Conversely, high-frequency TENS or Conventional TENS (above 50 Hz) blocks pain messages from reaching the brain.

On the other hand, the intensity of the electrical pulses, measured in Milliamperes (mA), determines the depth and strength of the electric nerve stimulation. The intensity must be set to a firm yet comfortable level for the individual. It should not be too low or too high.

A woman using a wireless TENS unit on her lower back and near the elbow

Benefits of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation offers a versatile approach to pain management. It is capable of addressing various pain characteristics. Thus, it makes it suitable for a broad audience. Furthermore, TENS therapy provides a non-invasive solution. TENS works externally through the skin. It eliminates the risks associated with invasive methods, particularly prolonged recovery periods.

Another significant benefit of TENS treatment is its drug-free nature. It allows users to avoid the potential side effects and dependency risks associated with prescription medications. The ability to customise treatment sessions is a crucial advantage of TENS therapy. Users can adjust the settings to their comfort level and pain relief needs. It ensures a tailored therapy experience for each user.

Moreover, using a TENS unit can be cost-effective over time. It reduces the need for ongoing medication purchases or frequent medical appointments. Also, the compact and portable design of TENS devices allows users to carry and use them wherever they go. Additionally, TENS treatment can serve as a complementary therapy. It enhances the effectiveness of other medical treatments or therapists.

Types of Pain Treated with TENS

TENS therapy can manage chronic pain conditions. It is a persistent discomfort that lingers for long periods of time. It may include fibromyalgia, backaches, and arthritis pain. Accordingly, TENS is equally effective in addressing acute pain. It is usually sudden and severe. It often results from postoperative pain, labour pain, tension headaches, and injuries.

Additionally, TENS offers significant relief to musculoskeletal pain. It stems from conditions affecting the muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. It may involve rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Furthermore, TENS treatment can aid neuropathic pain. It is characterised by nerve damage. It may include phantom pain and diabetic neuropathy.


Overall, the history of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation became visible in the 20th Century. Over the years, TENS therapy has adapted to the digital age. Nevertheless, TENS is a method of pain relief. It uses a wired or wireless electronic device to deliver electrical impulses to the body via electrodes placed on the skin. These currents work through various mechanisms. It blocks the transmission of pain signals to the brain, prompts the release of endorphins, and enhances blood circulation.

Furthermore, TENS units can stream the electrical pulses in varying frequencies and intensities. The frequencies can be low or high, and the intensity should be adjusted to a comfortable level. Moreover, TENS presents various benefits. It is versatile, non-invasive, drug-free, customisable, cost-effective, compact, portable, and can be a complementary therapy. TENS can also treat various types of pain. It can manage backaches, tension headaches, osteoarthritis, and diabetic neuropathy.

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