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Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 26.01.2023 | 2 min read

A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine (also known as a TENS machine) is a device used to provide pain relief. Typically, TENS machines come as small, portable, and battery-operated boxes with wires connected to electrodes that you attach to your skin with sticky pads. However, some newer versions are wireless. TENS machines deliver low voltage electrical impulses through your skin, which is felt as a tingling sensation. For you to feel pain, pain signals must be sent to your brain. The electrical impulses generated by a TENS machine are thought to help relieve pain by interfering with these pain signals and stopping them from reaching your brain. They may also increase your body’s production of hormones called endorphins which act as natural painkillers.

Some people like to use a TENS machine as an alternative to painkillers, although they can be used alongside them too. There are lots of conditions whereby people may use a TENS machine, including arthritis, back pain, neck pain, sports injuries and period pain. Typically, people use a TENS machine several times a day in 15-20 minute sessions. A TENS machine can also be used to provide pain relief during the early stages of labour.

Do transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation machine's work?

There is no conclusive evidence to say for sure that TENS machines work. More clinical trials are needed to prove their effectiveness. That said, anecdotal reporting suggests that they do benefit some patients. Even if it is a placebo effect, if it works for you then it is worth a go!

How to position the pads

Before positioning the pads, you should make sure the machine is switched off. Then you should stick the pads on either side of the painful area at least one inch apart. Ensure the skin you apply the pads to is clean and dry and not broken, irritated, or infected. Do not place the pads over your eyes, mouth, temples, front or sides of your neck, heart, numb areas, or varicose veins. You will need to buy new pads once they lose their stickiness (usually every few months).

Should anyone avoid using them?

You should speak with your doctor before using a TENS machine if you have a pacemaker or any other electrical or metal device implanted in your body. You should also speak with your doctor before using a TENS machine if you are pregnant or have epilepsy, heart disease, cancer, or pain that is undiagnosed. Children should only use a TENS machine if it has been recommended by their doctor, and they should be supervised by an adult when using it.

Are there any side effects?

Most people that use a TENS machine do not experience any side effects. However, some people may be allergic to the pads and develop a rash. In this case, there are special allergy-sensitive pads available to buy.

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