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TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

3-minute read

Key facts

  • TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a method of pain relief.
  • TENS may help ease pain for some people with certain conditions.
  • More research is needed to show the effects of TENS. This includes using different frequencies to relieve pain.
  • A TENS machine runs on batteries and is portable.

What is TENS?

TENS is a method of pain relief.

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Transcutaneous means across the skin.

TENS machines pass a small electrical current across your skin to stimulate the nerves and relieve your pain.

How does TENS work?

When using a TENS machine, small electrodes are placed on your skin in the area where you feel pain. The TENS machine sends pulses of gentle electric current to the electrodes.

Some people find it gives some pain relief.

While it isn't entirely clear how it works, it's thought that TENS:

  • blocks pain signals by stimulating different nerves
  • causes the release of endorphins — the body's natural pain relievers

A TENS machine runs on batteries and is portable.

TENS does not use medicines, needles or injections.

What types of pain can TENS treat?

TENS has been used to give pain relief for various conditions, including:

Physiotherapists sometimes use TENS to treat pain.

Is TENS effective at relieving pain?

TENS may help ease pain for some people with certain conditions. But more research is needed to show the effects of TENS. This includes using different frequencies to relieve pain.

Are there any side effects with TENS?

TENS shouldn't be painful, but some people find it uncomfortable.

Some people get a skin irritation where the electrodes are attached.

When should TENS not be used?

TENS should not be used:

  • on an open wound
  • if your skin is irritated
  • near sensitive areas, such as your eyes
  • near a tumour or cancer
  • on your head or chest
  • at the front of the neck
  • while driving or operating machinery
  • in or around water

TENS should not be used by:

How can I get a TENS machine?

Check with your doctor about using TENS for your type of pain.

Your doctor may refer you to a pain clinic or to a physiotherapist for treatment. It’s important to start treatment with a healthcare professional.

You may be able to hire a TENS machine to use at home.

You can also buy your own TENS machine. You can buy them direct from manufacturers, from medical equipment suppliers and from some pharmacies. But make sure that the supplier is registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Before using your machine, ask a health professional for advice on:

  • the settings that are best suited for you
  • where to apply the electrodes

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2022

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