TENS – Is This Therapy for You?

TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), is the most widely used type of electrotherapy and when done correctly, the success rate is impressive. This therapy uses electrodes on small pads that adhere to the affected area and are attached via wires to a battery-operated device. Controlled current is sent through the electrodes which stimulate the sensory nerves creating a tingling sensation that reduces pain. A qualified practitioner ensures that the patient is comfortable while receiving the proper frequency and patterns of stimulation to effectively and safely reduce or eliminate pain.

In recent years, a number of TENS products have been marketed, some as wearable devices. Although some of these products may work, one must be cautioned that if done incorrectly or under the wrong conditions not only will it not work, it can produce detrimental effects.

TENS machines tend mainly to be used to help reduce musculoskeletal pain. People must not use a TENS machine unless under the care of a qualified professional if:

  • The cause of the pain is not known or is not diagnosed.
  • Pregnant (unless specifically medically advised - or in labour).
  • The individual has a pacemaker.
  • The individual has epilepsy or certain types of heart disease.
  • The individual has skin conditions that can be negatively affected by TENS.

It is important to seek the advice from a qualified health professional.

Brief History of Electrical Pain Management

Electrical stimuli were used in pain management strategies for centuries. Hippocrates and Ancient Egyptians knew that electric eels were potentially useful for producing an electrical shock to control pain yet it wasn’t fully recognized until 46AD.  Scribonius Largus recorded in 46AD that the electric ray torpedo fish was used to treat gout and headaches.

In the 18th and 19th centuries these natural producers of electricity were replaced by man-made electrical devices. This happened in phases; the first was the application of static electrical currents called Franklinism. Christian Kratzenstein was the first to apply it medically, followed shortly by Benjamin Franklin. The 19th century was coined the golden age of electrotherapy. It was used for countless dental, neurological, psychiatric and gynecological problems. However, at beginning of the 20th century electrotherapy fell into the background. Mainstream medicine dismissed this therapy as lacking a scientific basis and claimed it was used by quacks. The development of analgesic drugs helped to decrease interest in this therapy. In the second half of the 20th century electrotherapy underwent a revival and has greatly advanced.

Fast forward to 2016, from the News Centre at the University of Texas Arlington, researchers are encouraged with a possible new application of electrical stimulation. Yuan Bo Peng, UTA psychology professor said in a news release:

“This is the first study to use a wireless electrical device to alleviate pain by directly stimulating the ventral tegmental area of the brain. While still under laboratory testing, this new method does provide hope that in the future we will be able to alleviate chronic pain without the side effects of medications.”

Conditions Treated with TENS

There are many conditions that respond well to TENS. Although not an inclusive list, there are some conditions in which there are proven results in pain reduction or elimination. These include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness.
  • Low back pain.
  • Diabetic nerve pain.
  • Fibromyalgia pain.
  • Arthritis
  • Sports Injuries.

Is TENS Therapy for You?

TENS is typically applied at the site of the pain, but is sometimes more effective when used in other areas as well. A health professional is your best ally in determining if this is a preferred method in effectively treating your pain.

Sometimes results are instant, but in some cases there may be repeated treatments required. Through the release of endorphins and the control of nerves, TENS sends relief directly to the site of pain. Some people experience permanent pain relief after repeated sessions with TENS therapy.

Established in 2007 by Dr. Behfar Sanjari, Chiro-Med Rehab Centre has proved their commitment in providing quality health care services to the Greater Toronto Area for over a decade. Chiro-Med Rehab Centre has qualified professionals who can help you manage and possibly treat underlying conditions that are causing you pain. We have clinics located in Richmond Hill and Newmarket, call 905-918-0419 or 905-235-2620 for more information.


Weiner, R. S. (2001). Pain Management: a Practical Guide for Clinicians. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis Ltd. (Page 15.)

University of Texas Arlington

U.S. National Library of Medicine

December 21, 2017
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