Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation – known as TENS – is a method of pain relief, commonly used as a treatment for a variety of pain conditions.
The advantages of TENS machines are that they are small, portable devices, that are easily used for at-home treatment, and are relatively inexpensive. People may also use TENS machines if they want to avoid taking pain medications.
How does a TENS machine relieve pain?
TENS machines work by sending electrical pulses to the skin surface via electrodes. These electrical pulses stimulate the nerves. This nerve stimulation works to relieve pain by inhibiting the transmission of pain signals by the nerves.1
It is although thought that some signalling molecules may be involved in the pain-relieving effects of TENS therapy, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and opioids.1
Is TENS safe?
TENS is considered comparatively safe when compared with certain medications. Some side effects that have been associated with TENS include redness or itchiness at the treatment site, or reduced blood pressure that can cause dizziness and nausea.1
Treatment with TENS is usually not recommended for people with serious medical conditions or device implants such as pacemakers.1 Even though TENS is not a medication, you should speak with your doctor to make sure TENS is right for you and does not pose a serious health risk.
What conditions is a TENS machine typically used for?
TENS treatment has been studied for chronic pain conditions. This includes chronic musculoskeletal conditions such as:
- – osteoarthritis
- – fibromyalgia
- – low back pain
- – neck pain
Research studies have noted significant reductions in musculoskeletal-related pain when patients are treated with TENS.1
One study reported that pain was reduced up to 20% in patients with chronic low back pain – which was similar to that reported by oral medications such as NSAIDs.1
TENS has also been used to treat neuropathic pain conditions such as:
- – diabetic neuropathy
- – spinal cord injuries
- – carpal tunnel syndrome
- – pain caused by multiple sclerosis
More research studies are necessary to determine whether TENS provides significant benefits for these pain conditions.
- Johnson MI. Resolving Long-Standing Uncertainty about the Clinical Efficacy of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) to Relieve Pain: A Comprehensive Review of Factors Influencing Outcome. Medicina (Kaunas). 2021;57(4):378. Published 2021 Apr 14. doi:10.3390/medicina57040378
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