You may have considered many kinds of treatments for your chronic pain, including medication, physical therapy, and perhaps surgery. One other option that has gained popularity is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS.
What is TENS?
A TENS machine is small -- about the size of an iPad mini. It’s connected to a series of electrodes, which are put on your skin to deliver a low-voltage electrical charge. The electrical pulses stimulate nerve fibers in the area where you have pain and reduce the pain signals to your brain. The electrical charge may also cause your body to release natural hormones that decrease your pain levels.
You can get TENS treatments from a machine you use at home or from a device at your doctor's or physical therapist's office.
How Well Does It Work?
There’s not a lot of good research on TENS, and some of the results are conflicting. But there is evidence that it may work for some people. The amount of pain relief it provides, and for how long, varies from person to person.
Generally, TENS may provide pain relief at first for many people who try it. But after using it for a few months, it appears to become less effective. It’s best to think of TENS as something to try in addition to other methods of managing pain.
What Kind of Pain Can TENS Treat?
It’s not for all types of pain. But it might help with:
Pain after surgery. It’s most effective in treating mild to moderate pain after several types of operations, including heart surgery, chest surgery, hysterectomy and other gynecological surgeries, orthopedic surgery, and abdominal surgery.
Arthritis pain. TENS seems to be effective in easing arthritis pain, and in some studies has also been found to improve range of motion for people with knee osteoarthritis. The results are mixed on how effective it is for rheumatoid arthritis.
Diabetes nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy). Studies show that TENS can help relieve pain from diabetic nerve damage, most commonly in the hands and feet.
Spinal cord injury pain. At least three studies on TENS and spinal cord injury pain have shown improvements in this kind of pain, which is hard to treat.