Who Is a Candidate for TENS Therapy?


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, otherwise known as TENS, is a therapy used for pain reduction. TENS therapy involves using a small device — a TENS unit — that sends low-voltage electric currents to electrodes attached to the skin. These electrical pulses flood the nervous system, reducing its ability to transmit pain signals from the spinal cord to the brain. The electrical pulses can also stimulate nerves to release endorphins to help ease pain. A considerable advantage of a TENS unit is its portability; TENS therapy can be administered in a clinical setting or at home.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is not designed for all types of pain or all situations. Various factors determine whether pain relief will be possible with TENS therapy. Age, pain type and severity, other comorbidities, and neurological integrity can all play a role in the effectiveness of TENS therapy.

What type of pain does TENS treat?

TENS therapy is often used for post-surgical pain, chronic intractable pain, myofascial pain, neuropathic pain, and centralized-type pain. TENS treatments are commonly used on nerve pain in the back, neck, elbow, wrist and ankle. A medical professional should be consulted to ensure the pain isn't from a different condition, so TENS therapy doesn't do more harm than good.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation may reduce pain associated with certain health conditions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Bursitis
  • Neck pain
  • Labor pain
  • Cancer pain
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Spinal cord injury pain
  • Facial pain
  • Menstrual pain

Using a TENS unit at home is generally considered safe if used as directed by a medical professional. Burning or irritation of the skin can occur from prolonged use or placement of electrodes in areas with little to no feeling.

Who should not use TENS?

A TENS unit should not be used on the head, face, throat, chest, genitals or broken skin unless specifically instructed to do so by a health care professional. Pregnant women should not use any type of electrical stimulation for pain relief because the effects on fetuses are unknown. People with heart conditions should only use a TENS device under the care of their doctor and should use extra caution even then. People with pacemakers, infusion pumps, defibrillators, or any other implanted device should never use a TENS device.