Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Electrical Nerve Stimulation



Electrical nerve stimulation, also called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), is a noninvasive, drug-free pain management technique. By sending electrical signals to underlying nerves, the battery-powered TENS device can relieve a wide range of chronic and acute pain.


TENS is used to relieve pain caused by a variety of chronic conditions, including:
  • neck and lower back pain
  • headache/migraine
  • arthritis
  • post-herpetic neuralgia (lingering chronic pain after an attack of shingles)
  • sciatica (pain radiating from lower back, through the legs, to the foot)
  • temporomandibular joint pain
  • osteoarthritis
  • amputation (phantom limb)
  • fibromyalgia (a condition causing aching and stiffness throughout the body)
The device is also effective against short-term pain, such as:
  • shingles (painful skin eruptions along the nerves)
  • bursitis (inflammation of tissue surrounding a joint)
  • childbirth
  • post-surgical pain
  • fractures
  • muscle and joint pain
  • sports injuries
  • menstrual cramps


Because TENS may interfere with pacemaker function, patients with pacemakers should consult a cardiologist before using a TENS unit. Patients should also avoid electrical stimulation in the front of the neck, which can be hazardous. The safety of the device during pregnancy has not been established.
TENS doesn't cure any condition; it simply eases pain. Patients who are not sure what is causing their pain should consult a physician before using TENS.


The TENS device is a small battery-powered stimulator that produces low-intensity electrical signals through electrodes on or near a painful area, producing a tingling sensation that reduces pain. There is no dosage limitation, and the patient controls the amount of pain relief.
Some experts believe TENS works by blocking pain signals in the spinal cord, or by delivering electrical impulses to underlying nerve fibers that lessen the experience of pain. Others suspect that the electrical stimulation triggers the release of natural painkillers in the body.
Patients can rent a TENS unit before buying one, to see if it is effective against their pain.


After TENS has been prescribed, a doctor will refer the patient to a TENS specialist, who will explain how to use the machine. The specialist works with the patient to determine the settings and electrode placements for the best pain relief.

Key terms

Fibromyalgia — A condition characterized by aching and stiffness, fatigue and poor sleep, as well as tenderness at various sites on the body.
Osteoarthritis — A painful joint disease aggravated by mechanical stress.
Phantom limb — The perception that a limb is present (and throbbing with pain) after it has been amputated.
Post-herpetic neuralgia — Lingering pain that can last for years after an attack of shingles.
Sciatica — Pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, extending from the buttock down the leg to the foot.
Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ) — Pain and other symptoms affecting the head, jaw, and face that are caused when the jaw joints and muscles controlling them don't work together correctly.


TENS is nonaddictive and completely safe. The only side effect may be a slight skin irritation or redness in some people, which can be prevented by using different gels or electrodes.

Normal results

The amount of relief a person gets using TENS depends on the underlying cause of the pain, a person's mental state, and whether or not medication is also used. At least one study found that both a real TENS machine and a placebo were equally effective in reducing pain. This suggests that at least part of its effectiveness may be due to the patient's belief in its ability to ease pain.
Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Patient discussion about Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Q. How does a Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit help fibromyalgia. My aunt was suggested to go through TENS. Will that really help? How does a Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit help fibromyalgia?

A. ‘TENS’ units are prescribed for chronic pain sufferers and fibromyalgia patients. What is a tens unit? Tens stands for Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. A tens unit is essentially a stimulation device consisting of electrodes that are attached to the skin, the unit itself, and a battery to provide current. A Tens unit uses electricity to block nerves from sending pain messages.

More discussions about Electrical Nerve Stimulation
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References in periodicals archive ?
In the new study, researchers assessed the short-term effects of high- and low-frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on neuropathic pain following SCI.
Small studies suggest some benefit from various nonpharmacologic interventions, including avoidance of irritants, such as caffeine, chocolate, and citrus or other acidic foods; pelvic floor rehabilitation (Kegel exercises); acupuncture; and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
AccuRelief is the first line of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy products approved by the Food and Drug Administration for full-body use.
Washington, May 17 (ANI): Researchers suggest that women in labour should be allowed to use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) - a non-drug method of pain management.
SAN DIEGO -- When used with a dose of skepticism, passive modalities such as transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and ultrasound can play a useful role in the rehabilitation of patients with acute muscle injuries, Dr.
The other 72 patients received standard allopathic care, which could include analgesics, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, ultrasonography, diathermy, hot and cold packs, use of a corset, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
Global Electrotherapy Market Insights and Trend Analysis By Type (Ultrasound Therapy, Interferential, Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy, Magnetic Field Therapy, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Therapy), Devices (Electronic Muscle Stimulator, Transcutaneous Electrical Neural Stimulator, Interferential Stimulator, Microcurrent Stimulator ), Application (cardiology, orthopedics, urology, Acute and Chronic Edema, Pain management), Top Companies and Regional Outlook Till 2023
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy use low-voltage electric currents to treat pain.
A Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is commonly used for pain relief.
The guideline authors also noted insufficient evidence for many nondrug therapies for acute and subacute low back pain, including transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, electrical muscle stimulation, short-wave diathermy, traction, superficial cold, motor control exercise, Pilates, tai chi, yoga, psychological therapies, multidisciplinary rehabilitation, ultrasound, and taping.
The findings showed that, among patients assigned to self-administered transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for at least 2 hours daily for 4 weeks, 44% had at least a 30% reduction in their pain with movement while on treatment, compared with 22% of patients reporting this level of improvement in the group that received mock TENS, Leslie J.
Potential treatment includes topical anesthetics, capsaicin and tacrolimus, intralesional corticosteroids, cutaneous botulinum toxin type A injections, gaba-pentin, oxcarbazepine, amitriptyline, surgical decompression, paravertebral local anesthetic blocks, transcu-taneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), exposure to narrow band UV-B radiation, spinal manipulation, physical therapy applications, osteopathic manipulative treatment and acupuncture (Table 1).

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