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Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation: What Is It And What Conditions Can Be Treated?

A large wing iTENS electrode

Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation is also known as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). It is a form of electrotherapy that alleviates pain from various conditions. It uses electrical pulses delivered through externally applied electrodes to stimulate the body to relieve many types of pain. This includes conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and migraines. It also works on primary dysmenorrhea, postoperative pain, and various body aches from strain.

TENS therapy is a drug-free way of relieving aches. It provides versatile treatment by blocking pain messages from reaching the brain and stimulating endorphin production. This helps reduce dependency on medications, which have many adverse effects. It may also complement other medical treatments the patient is using. However, consulting a healthcare professional before using TENS is essential. This article will present what TENS means, the conditions it treats, and how to operate a TENS unit.

What Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation Means

Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a therapeutic technique that uses low-voltage electric currents to relieve pain. During this therapy, the person places electrode patches on the skin near or above the source of the pain. Many people benefit from using electrotherapy. Thus, it is steadily growing in popularity.

To administer TENS therapy, people use TENS machines. These are wired or wireless devices many use in hospitals and therapy clinics. People may also buy personal devices. These are available online, in pharmacies, and in medical supply stores. Wired or traditional TENS use lead cables to connect the electrode patches to the power supply and controller. Some devices may use up to eight electrodes at once.

Meanwhile, wireless TENS remove the restrictions of cables using Bluetooth. Some connect to a controller, while some connect to a smartphone application. This increases the convenience and ease of use of TENS machines. However, consulting a medical professional is ideal to ensure safety before using any electrotherapy device.

Benefits of Electrotherapy

  • Non-invasive: electrode pads are externally applied. This eliminates the risks associated with invasive procedures like infections.
  • Drug-free: TENS therapy does not require the use of medication. It helps people reduce or replace their intake of oral pain medicines. This is helpful for those who wish to avoid their adverse effects.
  • Versatile: it is effective for many conditions, and people may adjust the settings according to their comfort level.
  • Portable: people may use TENS machines in various locations without medical supervision.
  • Targeted pain relief: people may place pads of various shapes and sizes near or on the origin of the aches for temporary but effective relief.

A person placing a large wing electrode on the lower back area

Conditions that Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation Can Treat

Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation helps alleviate aches from a wide range of acute and chronic pain conditions. Firstly, it helps with various body aches. This includes back, neck, shoulder, knee, and foot pain. It also helps with postoperative pain. This is commonly felt after surgery and can radiate throughout the body. In addition, it helps with primary dysmenorrhea, commonly felt at the start of the menstrual cycle.

TENS machines also work on chronic pain conditions. One example is fibromyalgia. This is an ailment that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, tenderness, and general fatigue. Another condition is diabetic neuropathy. This causes neuropathic pain and numbness in the legs, hands and feet.

Another chronic condition TENS is effective on is arthritis. This is the inflammation of the joints, which causes stiffness and pain in adults and children alike. People also use it for pain relief from sciatica. This is caused by injury or pressure to the sciatic nerve. People with this ailment experience lower back pain. It may even radiate down to the legs. Lastly, migraines are throbbing headaches that last for days, which TENS can help ease.

How it Works to Relieve Pain

TENS therapy uses electrical currents to stimulate the body to alleviate aches. People can adjust the intensity, frequency, and pulse width of the electrical stimulation to suit their condition. For acute pain, people often use high-frequency stimulation. This triggers the spinal nerve cells to block pain signals from reaching the brain.

Meanwhile, low-frequency stimulation induces the production of endorphins. These are natural painkillers that build up and reduce the sensation of pain. Many use it for chronic pain since this effect lasts for hours. Moreover, endorphins reduce inflammation and improve moods, which helps increase the quality of life.

A person using multiple iTENS electrodes on their leg and foot

How to Operate a Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation Device

Using a Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation device is a straightforward process. However, understanding how to use the machine properly is crucial. To do this, people may study the instructional manual from the product manufacturer. Furthermore, they may get advice from their healthcare provider regarding how to use the device for their condition.

Before starting, it is best to clean the skin with soap and water. This removes excess body oil and lotions that may interfere with electrode patch adhesion. Then, the user may place the electrodes. One safety consideration when using more than one pad is to ensure there is at least a one-inch distance between them. Once the pads are secure, the user may turn the machine on.

It is best to start with low settings and then gradually increase them. Users may also set a timer to avoid exceeding the prescribed duration. This can help reduce the risks of developing minor skin irritation, burns, or muscle spasms. Once the time elapses, they may turn the machine off and remove the electrode patches.

Safety Considerations When Using the Machine

Before using a TENS unit, people must ensure their medical condition suits electrotherapy. Some health issues react negatively to electric stimulation. Thus, people with cancer, epilepsy, seizures, and heart diseases should avoid using TENS. Moreover, pregnant women should also refrain from using TENS before they experience labour pains.

In addition, people should stay alert during TENS therapy. They should refrain from sleeping or doing activities that require concentration, such as driving or operating heavy machinery. Individuals must ensure proper electrode placement. Avoid sensitive areas like the spine, throat and chest. In addition, people should abstain from attaching pads on irritated, infected, or broken skin.


Transdermal Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a form of electrotherapy that uses electric stimulation to alleviate aches. To use a TENS machine, users must place the electrode pads near or on the pain source. Then, they may adjust the settings for optimal pain relief. High-frequency stimulation can trigger spinal nerve cells to block pain signals. Meanwhile, low-frequency stimulation induces endorphin production. It is effective in a wide range of acute and chronic conditions.

People may use TENS to ease aches from primary dysmenorrhea, fibromyalgia, sciatica, arthritis, and diabetic neuropathy. They may buy personal devices to eliminate the hassle of going to medical settings for treatment. However, people should consult health professionals first before using TENS. This is to ensure safety since some conditions negatively react to electric stimulation. People may select from wired or wireless options when looking for a TENS machine. One prospect is the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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