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Millions of people all over the world live with chronic pain on a daily basis. While pain is an important signal from your body, it can also be debilitating while you’re trying to heal, and it’s important to control it so you can get well again.

In the past, this was done with a range of drugs and other treatments, but modern science is unveiling new, non-invasive and non-drug methods of controlling pain. One of the most effective of these is the TENS machine. So what is a TENS Machine?

What is a TENS Machine?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This is a form of nerve-related pain control that works on both chronic and acute conditions and works by sending pulses of stimulating energy across the skin and along the nerves. There has been a wealth of research supporting the efficacy of TENS machines for analgesic purposes, and all are quite supportive, pointing to both scientific research and clinical trials that support the use of TENS devices for a range of pain-related conditions.

TENS devices come in a variety of different configurations. They can be found as belts to treat lower back pain, as devices that provide circulation to the bottom of the feet, and as electrode systems that can be applied anywhere on the body that is recommended by your doctor.

DR-HO'S Pain Therapy System

What is TENS Therapy?

TENS Therapy often contributes to a part of physical therapy treatments, using electrodes to produce electrical impulses that control neurological functions. In Western medicine, and when discussing machines designed for home use, electrodes are the preferred method, though some claim that acupuncture provides deeper results.

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 centuries, it was first defined in scientific terms as a mechanism in 1965. Scientists named Melzack and Wall first came up with what they called the “Gate Control Theory.” This theory showed that electricity could be used to reduce and control pain, and eventually resulted in the development and first use of a TENS machine.

The duration of 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 outstanding relief when properly used. The process is painless, producing at most a tingling sensation from high-frequency stimulation.  

What a TENS Machine is Used For?

TENS Therapy is used to treat acute and chronic pain including:

  •         Fibromyalgia
  •         Back pain
  •         Sciatic nerve pain
  •         Hip and leg pain
  •         Muscle tension
  •         Neck and shoulder pain
  •         Post-surgical pain
  •         Headaches (tension and migraine)
  •         Sports injuries
  •         Arthritis, tendonitis and bursitis
  •         Cancer pain

How Does It Work?

The key to TENS therapy is the use of electrical impulses to control the way the brain processes pain signals from affected areas. It allows the patient to “neuromodulate,” or control these impulses by restoring normal impulses from the body’s extremities to the spine, through the production of natural “feel good” chemicals like endorphins, enkephalins and dynorphins, through inhibiting pain signals that originate from the spine, and from inhibiting the function of nerves that may be abnormally excited.

Breaking it down into its component terminology, TENS works as follows:

  •         Transcutaneous – impulses are sent through the skin
  •         Electrical – the impulses are small electrical charges generated through electrodes
  •         Nerve – these impulses are sent to and from the brain through the nerves, which also send pain signals
  •         Stimulation – the impulses work by stimulating nerves in the right way, to block pain signals.


Are There Any Dangers to Using TENS?

While studies indicate this is a safe and effective method of reducing and controlling pain, there are always risks when misusing a device. TENS machine side effects should only occur if the machine is being used improperly. Specifically, you should avoid leaving electrodes in place for an extended period of time. The skin needs to be checked and cleaned periodically.  You should stop using the device if a rash or burn develops and doesn’t go away within six hours, and call your doctor.

You should avoid using TENS while driving, sleeping, in the shower or bath and it should not be used while sleeping. In order to be completely safe with the use of your TENS machine, you should use it strictly as your doctor recommends.

Where Not to Use a TENS Machine.

There are several bodily areas where TENS is specifically not recommended, as the electrical impulses could cause harm. TENS devices should NOT be used in the following areas:

  •         Eyes
  •         Head
  •         Spinal column
  •         Over tumors
  •         Open wounds (directly over)
  •         Front of the neck
  •         On the chest
  •         Over a pacemaker or ICD device

Where Can You Get a TENS Machine?

The first step is to discuss whether TENS is a good step for you. After you answer the question 'what is a TENS machine', talk with your doctor and physical therapist about your needs and how you can use the device. Then, check out Dr. Ho’s range of TENS pain relief packages to choose the best option for you. Check out the article "TENS Machine: This is Everything You Need to Know" for more information. 

More Information on TENS:

what is a TENS machine


  1. “Using TENS for Pain Control: The State of the Evidence.” (National Institutes of Health). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4186747/
  2. “Effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Treatment of Hyperalgesia and Pain.” (National Institutes of Health). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2746624/
  3. “Exploring the Evidence for Using TENS to Relieve Pain.” (Nursing Times). Retrieved from https://www.nursingtimes.net/exploring-the-evidence-for-using-tens-to-relieve-pain/5042395.article
  4. “TENS for Back Pain.” (WebMD). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/back-pain/guide/tens-for-back-pain
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