Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

TENS machine delivers a small electrical current to the body through electrodes attached to the skin.

TENS machine delivers a small electrical current to the body through electrodes attached to the skin.
beginning of content

TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

2-minute read

TENS is a method of pain relief for people with chronic pain or women in labour. A TENS machine delivers a small electrical current to the body through electrodes attached to the skin. It does not involve medicines or injections.

What is TENS?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Transcutaneous means across the skin. TENS is also called electrotherapy.

A TENS machine passes electricity across the skin to stimulate your nerves and relieve your pain.

A TENS machine runs on batteries. You put small electrodes on your skin, and the electrodes are connected to the TENS machine. The machine sends pulses of gentle electric current to the electrodes. The current stimulates the nerves near your pain.

Some people find it gives some pain relief. It uses no medicines, no needles and no injections.

But it isn't clear how it works. It's possible that it blocks pain signals by stimulating different nerves in your spinal cord. TENS might also cause the release of endorphins - the body's natural pain relievers.

Medical uses for TENS

TENS can give pain relief in labour. It is also used for chronic pain in people who have conditions such as cancer or arthritis. Physiotherapists sometime use it to treat muscle pain.

Is TENS effective?

TENS helps ease pain for some people, but not for others.

Risks and safety

TENS is thought to be safe. But it should not be used:

  • on an open wound
  • if your skin is irritated
  • near sensitive areas such as your eyes
  • while driving or operating machinery
  • in or around water

It should not be used by:

  • women who are pregnant but not in labour
  • people with a pacemaker or a cochlear implant
  • people with epilepsy

TENS shouldn't be painful, but some people find it uncomfortable. Some people find skin irritation where the electrodes are attached.

How to get a TENS machine

You might be able to rent or borrow a TENS machine from a physiotherapist or a hospital.

You can buy your own, but you should ask a physiotherapist or health professional for advice on the settings that are best suited for your problem.

Last reviewed: April 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) devices | myVMC

TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation devices are used to treat pain. They work by passing a small electrical current across the skin.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

TENS - transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation -

TENS (trancutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a treatment that uses low voltage electrical currents to relieve pain.

Read more on myDr website

TENS (Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)

Labour is painful, so it' important to learn about all the ways that you can relieve the pain. TENS machine delivers a small electrical current to the body through electrodes attached to the skin. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Choose one that suits you.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Pain Management | enableme - stroke recovery and support

Need to know more about the type of pain you might experience after your stroke and how can it be managed?

Read more on Stroke Foundation website

Neck pain: treatment -

Treatment for neck pain depends on the cause and how severe it is. Neck pain treatment, including treatment for whiplash, often involves a combination of self-care, medicines, exercises and relaxation therapies.

Read more on myDr website

Chronic pelvic pain | Women's Health Queensland Wide

Chronic pelvic pain is one of the most common reasons women visit a health professional.

Read more on Women's Health Queensland Wide website

Sudeck's atrophy (Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, Complex regional pain syndrome 1) | myVMC

Sudeck's atrophy, also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome is long term pain, usually after a trivial injury.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Treatments for pain caused by secondary breast cancer | Cancer Australia

Cancer pain can usually be controlled. Its rare to have cancer pain that cant be lessened or changed.

Read more on Cancer Australia website

Phantom limb pain information | myVMC

Phantom limb pain occurs after amputation. The amputee experiences painful sensations, often similar to the pain in the limb prior to amputation.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Neuropathic pain -

Find out all about neuropathic pain (nerve pain), which is usually described as a shooting, stabbing or burning pain, with

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo