Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief involving the use of a mild electrical current.
A TENS machine is a small, battery-operated device that has leads connected to sticky pads called electrodes.
You attach the pads directly to your skin. When the machine is switched on, small electrical impulses are delivered to the affected area of your body, which you feel as a tingling sensation.
The electrical impulses can reduce the pain signals going to the spinal cord and brain, which may help relieve pain and relax muscles. They may also stimulate the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
What TENS is used for
TENS may be able to help reduce pain and muscle spasms caused by a wide range of conditions including:
- period pain
- knee pain
- neck pain
- back pain
- sports injuries
It’s also sometimes used as a method of pain relief during labour.
Are there any risks of side effects?
For most people, TENS is a safe treatment with no side effects.
Some people may be allergic to the pads and their skin may become red and irritated, but special pads for people with allergies are available.
TENS isn’t safe for everyone to use. Don’t use it without first seeking medical advice if:
- you have a pacemaker or another type of electrical or metal implant in your body
- you’re pregnant, or there’s a chance you might be pregnant – TENS may not be recommended early in pregnancy
- you have epilepsy or a heart problem
How to use TENS
The information below is a general guide on how to use a TENS machine. You should always follow the manufacturer’s specific instructions.
TENS machines are small and lightweight, so you can use them while you’re working or on the move. You can put it in your pocket, clip it to your belt or hold it in your hand.
You can use TENS throughout the day for as long as you like, although it shouldn’t be used while you’re driving, operating machinery, or in the bath or shower.