Everything You Need to Know About TENS Units for Chronic Pain: Pros, Cons, and Efficacy

A user-friendly and battery-operated TENS unit is an alternative aid in the treatment of period pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and other forms of pain. Although research is still undergoing, some reports are showing that this alternative painkiller is effective for certain people.

How Does It Work?

TENS unit machine

Source: myorthoevidence.com

In a nutshell, a safe and suitable TENS unit machine can help reduce pain in the body by sending small electrical waves through electrodes that are stuck to the skin with adhesive patches. These electrical impulses are too much for the nervous system to handle, making it less able to send pain messages to the brain and spinal cord. Endorphins are natural painkillers that are made by the body when it gets electrical signals.

Pain can be treated and managed with the help of TENS machines, which can be used to treat menstrual and labour discomfort, postoperative discomfort, joint pain, and head and backache. Additionally, they may alleviate the discomfort caused by arthritis endometriosis sports injuries, multiple sclerosis fibromyalgia, painful diabetic nerve damage and spinal cord damage.

Controls on a TENS unit machine enable individuals to administer an appropriate level of pain relief. The user can adjust the intensity of the electrical stimulation via a dial. The frequency indicates the number of electrical pulses per second. Pulses with a high frequency (HF) of 80 to 120 cycles per second may aid in the management of acute pain.

When it comes to treating chronic pain, low-frequency (LF) pulses between 1 and 20 cycles per second are generally the appropriate range. The duration is the number of microseconds that the electrical current is applied to the epidermis during each pulse.

Additional Benefits

TENS is a non-invasive pain relief approach. People who get pain relief from TENS may be able to cut back on painkillers, some of which can be harmful in the long term and addictive or have unwanted side effects.

This type of external painkiller is also practical due to its small size, portability, and relative discretion. You can carry a TENS unit in your pocket or clip it to a belt so that you have immediate access to pain relief throughout the day.

Possible side effects

The vast majority of individuals can safely use a TENS unit without experiencing side effects just like they would use the good ol’ hot and cold body packs. However, the electrical impulses produced by a TENS unit may cause a humming, tingling, or pins-and-needles sensation that some individuals may find unpleasant. Some individuals may have an allergy to adhesive coverings. Anyone who experiences redness and irritation of the skin can convert to hypoallergenic alternatives.

It is imperative that the electrodes are never placed on the front of the neck or the eyes. Electrodes placed on the neck can reduce blood pressure and induce spasms. On the eyes, the electrodes can increase intraocular pressure and potentially cause injury.

When Not to Use TENS

Although it is safe for the majority of people, experts recommend that certain groups avoid TENS treatment unless prescribed by a physician. This advice applies to the following individuals:

avoid TENS treatment unless prescribed by a physician

Source: directorthocare.com

– Women who are pregnant should not use TENS in the abdominal and pelvic regions.

– Patients with epilepsy: Electrodes applied to the cranium or neck of epileptic patients may induce seizures.

– Individuals with heart conditions.

– Individuals with a pacemaker or other electrical or metallic implant.

Factors That Influence Its Efficacy

Scientists haven’t yet found out if TENS is an effective way to treat pain because there haven’t been enough high-quality studies and clinical trials. One report of a study discovered that TENS treatment provided fibromyalgia patients with temporary pain alleviation while the machine was in use.

Despite the lack of significant clinical evidence for its efficacy, TENS is a low-risk option for many individuals seeking pain relief. Several variables may affect its efficacy, including:


According to research, individuals who use a TENS unit daily at the same frequency and intensity can develop a tolerance to the therapy. Anyone who develops tolerance will no longer experience the same extent of pain alleviation as they did when they first started using the device.

In order to prevent this, individuals can alternate between LF and HF TENS during each treatment session. Alternately, they can progressively increase the TENS intensity or duration each day.

Stimulation Sensitivity

The range of electrical stimulation intensities may account for some of the disparities in research findings. According to research, it seems that HF TENS is more effective than LF TENS at treating pain. In fact, numerous studies have concluded that LF TENS is ineffective. Given that HF TENS is a more effective pain reliever, experts advise individuals to use the maximum tolerable TENS intensity.

Acupuncture Connection

Acupuncture is the practice of stimulating nerves beneath the skin at specific locations known as acupuncture sites using needles. According to experts, this helps the body produce endorphins. So, some research evidence suggests that individuals who receive TENS through acupuncturist spots may experience better results in pain relief. But as always, when it comes to your health, make sure to consult your doctor for your best results in overcoming pain.