COVID-19 Information: Vaccine | Testing | Self-assessment | Patient & Visitor Safety | Visitor Policy
Emergency Room Wait Times
Home > Living Well > Health Library > Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a therapy that uses low-voltage electrical current for pain relief.
You do TENS with a small, battery-powered machine about the size of a pocket radio. Usually, you connect two electrodes (wires that conduct electrical current) from the machine to your skin. The electrodes are often placed on the area of pain or at a pressure point, creating a circuit of electrical impulses that travels along nerve fibers.
When the current is delivered, some people experience less pain. This may be because the electricity from the electrodes stimulates the nerves in an affected area and sends signals to the brain that block or "scramble" normal pain signals. Another theory is that the electrical stimulation of the nerves may help the body to produce natural painkillers called endorphins, which may block the perception of pain.
You can set the TENS machine for different wavelength frequencies, such as a steady flow of electrical current or a burst of electrical current, and for intensity of electrical current. Your physical therapist, acupuncturist, or doctor usually determines these settings.
After you receive an introduction to and instruction in this therapy, you can do TENS at home.
People use TENS to relieve pain for several different types of illnesses and conditions. They use it most often to treat muscle, joint, or bone problems that occur with illnesses such as osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia. It's also often used for conditions such as low back pain, neck pain, tendinitis, or bursitis. People have also used TENS to treat sudden (acute) pain, such as labor pain, and long-lasting (chronic) pain, such as cancer pain.
Experts generally consider TENS to be safe, although the machine could cause harm if misused. Have your physical therapist or doctor show you the right way to use the machine. Follow these instructions carefully.
Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to not use your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.
TENS may help relieve pain for some people. But its effectiveness has not been proven.
Current as of:
June 23, 2021
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: Adam Husney MD - Family MedicineMartin J. Gabica MD - Family MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: June 23, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2021 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this website, and its associated websites, is provided as a benefit to the local community, and the Internet community in general; it does not constitute medical advice. We try to provide quality information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this website and its associated sites. As medical advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each patient and healthcare is constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of a competent physician. Furthermore, in providing this service, Adventist HealthCare does not condone or support all of the content covered in this site. As an Adventist health care organization, Adventist HealthCare acts in accordance with the ethical and religious directives for Adventist health care services.
Find an Adventist HealthCare affiliated doctor by calling our FREE physician referral service at 800-642-0101 or by searching our online physician directory.
Set Your Location
Setting your location helps us to show you nearby providers and locations based on your healthcare needs.