What are TENS Units?

The use of electricity for pain relief dates back to ancient Greece, when physician and pharmacologist Scribonius Largus recorded the use of electrical fish on his patients. Since ancient Greece, the technology has improved greatly, and today, electricity is used in medicine quite often.
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit is a non-invasive, non-pharmacological approach to treating pain that is quickly gaining popularity. Raj’s Practical Management of Pain states that TENS units are used often because of their ease of use and low risk of side effects. TENS units are thought to block the transmission of pain signals and provide what patients have described as a pleasant buzzing sensation.

Types of TENS Units

Consisting of a portable battery pack connected to two or more electrodes, a TENS unit is relatively easy to use and can be used at home. The electrodes are attached to the skin, and the patient is educated on how to control the unit at their physician’s office. The frequency and intensity of the TENS unit can be adjusted based on a patient’s individual and specific needs and preferences.

TENS units can also be used in conjunction with acupucture. The electrodes can be attached to the acupuncture needles, allowing low-frequency electrical pulses to be delivered to the source of pain.

Conditions Related to TENS Units

Many conditions can be managed with TENS units, and include chronic neck pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, sciatica, and chronic back pain.


TENS units can provide pain relief that can last from a few hours to a day, and for some, can help reduce the amount of prescription pain medications they take.

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