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.

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
References in periodicals archive ?
Increased release of serotonin in the spinal cord during low, but not high, frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in rats with joint inflammation.
Also a form of electrical stimulation called TENS, Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, can help block the pain signals from your feet from reaching your brain.
In one study, continuous electric current to the P6 pressure point using a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit resulted in improved symptoms in 87% of 23 patients, while a placebo unit led to improvement in only 43% of patients.
Percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for low back pain: a randomized crossover study.
A newer treatment, combining the benefits of acupuncture and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), has been found to be highly effective in relieving low back pain.
External electroceutical devices are classified as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), External Pacemakers, External Defibrillators and others based on technology.
A new study finds that Cefaly, the first FDA-approved transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation device specifically authorised for use prior to the onset of migraine pain, provides relief for 81% of migraine sufferers who use it, Belgian device maker Cefaly Technology said.
To assess the effectiveness of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) with Quadriceps isometric exercises in Acute Osteoarthritis of knee.
Washington, Sept 12 (ANI): A new study has revealed that electrical nerve stimulation can effectively reduce neuropathic pain following a spinal cord injury.
A TENS is a medication-free way to relieve pain and stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.
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.

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