What is a TENS Machine? [Updated 2023]

What is a TENS Machine? [Updated 2023]
Updated February 2023



Is Pain Getting In Your Way?

Pain can strike any of us, at any time, for a wide range of reasons. Whether it’s caused by everyday activities, work-related tension, or just aging, it can throw off our days, rob us of our favorite activities, and so much more.

Whenever we are in pain, we would do almost anything to feel relief. Because even just an hour of less pain can mean the difference between:

  • Getting up to tidy the house versus feeling trapped on the couch.
  • Forgetting your pain and falling asleep versus thinking of pain and having trouble sleeping.
  • Actively playing with grandchildren versus watching them play.

If this sounds like your experience, then you owe it to yourself to develop a pain management routine that allows you to take back some control over your life. Where to start? With a reliable, drug-free device like a TENS machine.


What is a TENS Machine?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS machine stimulates the muscles and nerves for the muscles to contract and relax. These contractions stimulate healthy muscles to improve muscle performance, increase local blood circulation to help relieve pain caused by arthritis and even manage chronic pain. There has been a wealth of research supporting the efficacy of TENS machines.

A TENS machine consists of a few simple parts:

  1. The TENS Device - A controller is used to change the therapy's intensity, massage mode, and duration.
  2. Self-Adhesive Body Pads - Sticky pads placed onto the painful area of the body. Some TENS devices come with a water spray bottle to wet pads before use, ensuring they stick correctly to the skin.
  3. Connecting Wires - Connecting the TENS device to the body pads, carrying the electrical current.



What is TENS Therapy?

In the past, people asked ‘What is a TENS machine?’ and were given little scientific evidence to answer their question. While it has existed for many decades, it was first defined as a mechanism in scientific terms in 1965. Scientists named Melzack and Wall first came up with what they called the “Gate Control Theory.”—the prevailing theory on how we experience pain to this day.

Essentially, you can think of pain sensations as a phone call. When you call a friend, you’re sending a signal to the phone number you dialed, and the reception of your call can be strong, weak, or unreceived. Pain works the same way:

  1. When pain strikes, a signal travels into the spinal cord.
  2. The signal travels through the brain stem (medulla) into the brain’s relay center (thalamus).
  3. The brain processes the information, and we consciously perceive the painful sensation.
Gate Control Theory showed that electric signals could be used to relieve pain by stimulating the nerves and blocking pain signals before they get to our brain. Melzack and Wall’s research resulted in the development and first use of a TENS machine.

A given TENS session can last anywhere from fifteen minutes to a few hours in a day. While often used in formal physical therapy, modern TENS machines are available for home use and can provide effective relief when properly used. A TENS session will stimulate the muscles and nerves to increase local blood circulation and relieve chronic, intractable pain, even pain caused by arthritis.

The process is easy and painless, feeling like mild, pulse-like stimulations. While everyone describes the sensation of TENS therapy differently, a few we hear time and time again are:

  • “A tingly sensation.”
  • “A relaxing tickle on the skin.”
  • “A soothing, deep tissue massage.”



What is a TENS Machine Used For?

TENS therapy can be used to target various areas of the body experiencing pain. TENS is considered an effective form of relief for:


Back, Neck, and Shoulder Pain

Back, neck, or shoulder pain can arise from physical work, office work, gardening, an awkward sleeping position, lifting something heavy, and so many other everyday activities. Back pain is extremely common – especially as we get older. TENS & EMS can be an effective part of a back pain management routine to help relieve pain, relax muscle spasms, and increase your range of motion.


Feet, Knee, and Leg Pain
Whether caused by standing, moving around at work all day, or poor circulation, lower limb pain can be intrusive, inconvenient, and restricting! Unfortunately, this type of pain is widespread and can often make it difficult to move, work, run errands, or do the activities you enjoy. TENS & EMS can help relieve foot pain and increase local blood circulation.

Note: Have a condition that causes poor blood flow in the legs, ankles, or feet? Make sure you get a TENS device that also has NMES therapy. It can temporarily reduce the pain, swelling, and cramping in the legs, ankles, and feet.



Chronic Pain

Living with pain on a daily basis can take its toll! Chronic pain can hold you back from work, play, or travel – impacting your overall quality of life. Many pain sufferers find that TENS devices help effectively manage and relieve chronic, stubborn pain symptoms. The best part? TENS machines can be used right from the comfort of your own home, car, workplace, or wherever you happen to be right when the pain hits.


Joint Pain & Arthritis-Related Pain

The Arthritis Foundation recognizes TENS as an effective option to help relieve arthritic pain! They say that “TENS has been shown to relieve osteoarthritis pain.” TENS devices present people with arthritis with an easy, effective way to relieve arthritic pain at home or on the go.


Post-Exercise Muscle Pain
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is very common after a workout session. It occurs due to the strain we put on our muscles when we exercise, causing very small, microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. While this muscle soreness is completely normal, it’s still quite uncomfortable to experience! TENS can help relieve these sore and achy muscles, while EMS can stimulate healthy muscles, to improve and facilitate muscle performance.

woman using TENS neck pain therapy device



How Does It Work?

The key to TENS therapy is using electrical impulses to stimulate healthy muscles and nerves to temporarily increase local blood circulation to relieve sore and achy muscles.

Breaking it down into its component terminology, TENS is proposed to work as follows:
  • Transcutaneous: Impulses are sent through the skin
  • Electrical: The impulses are gentle electrical stimulations generated through electrodes
  • Nerve: These impulses are sent to the nerves, which are connected to the muscles and are essential to muscle contraction and relaxation.
  • Stimulation: The impulses work by stimulating nerves and muscles to improve muscle performance, temporarily increase local blood circulation, and for the symptomatic relief of chronic pain and pain associated with arthritis.



Are There Any Dangers to Using TENS?

While TENS therapy is safe in most circumstances, there are some potential side effects to consider before you try it for yourself.

In order to be completely safe with the use of your TENS machine, you should read and follow the instructions and consult with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns regarding your health.



Interested in trying out TENS therapy for yourself?

DR-HO has been leading the industry in portable, effective, easy-to-use TENS therapy devices for over four decades.

Our units use a variety of Pain Therapy Technologies, not just TENS!

  • TENS: Stimulates nerves that may be causing your pain to help relieve pain.
  • EMS: Stimulates healthy muscles to facilitate and improve muscle performance.
  • NMES: Stimulates the nerves and muscles to relax muscle spasms, increase blood flow circulation, and maintain or increase range of motion.
  • Proprietary AMP: Provides over 300 automatically changing stimulations, so you get an unpredictable variety of pulses every time.
woman loving her TENS device

DR-HO’s has a full line of different configurations for your pain therapy needs. Target your pain with specially engineered products like these:
  • The Triple Action Back Belt is perfect for the relief of lower back pain in a convenient and comfortable package you can wear on the go!
  • The Neck Pain Pro can relieve neck and shoulder pain caused by long hours at a computer, driving, and much more.
  • The Circulation Promoter for increased blood flow and pain relief for feet and legs! If you spend long hours on your feet, this will change the way you manage your pain.
  • The Pain Therapy System Pro targets pain anywhere on your body with ease. Our standard TENS unit uses high-quality pads that let you feel relief no matter where and when pain strikes.
Curious about TENS but not convinced just yet? DR-HO’s has a 90 Day Money Back Guarantee! Try TENS for yourself completely risk-free and see if it’s right for you.