Image for TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Related techniques: Acupuncture-like TENS, auricular TENS, CODETRON, electronic muscle stimulators, electroanalgesia, peripheral nerve stimulation, sensory afferent stimulation (SAS), TES (transcutaneous electrical stimulation), TNS (transcutaneous nerve stimulation), TNS (transcutaneous neural stimulation), TENMS, transcutaneous electrical analgesia.
  • Not included in this review: Cerebral TENS, cranial TENS, deep brain stimulation (DBS), epidural stimulation, percutaneous electrical stimulation (PENS), spinal cord stimulation (SCS), subcutaneous nerve stimulation (SCNS), or use of electrical stimulation for muscle toning.

Background

  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive technique in which a low-voltage electrical current is delivered through wires from a small power unit to electrodes located on the skin. Electrodes are temporarily attached with paste in various patterns, depending on the specific condition and treatment goals. TENS is often used to treat pain, as an alternative or addition to pain medications. Therapy sessions may last from minutes to hours.
  • TENS devices can be set in a wide range of frequencies and intensities, depending on patient preferences, desired sensations, and treatment goals. "Conventional TENS" involves the delivery of high or low frequency electrical current to affected areas. In "acupuncture-like TENS," lower frequencies are used at specific "acupuncture points" or trigger points. TENS may also be applied to locations on the ear ("auricular points"). Epidural stimulation and percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS), which are not included in this review, are invasive procedures that require penetration of the skin, implantation, or minor surgery.
  • The practice of using electricity for pain control can be traced to 2500 BC and the Egyptian Fifth Dynasty, in which stone carvings depict an electric fish being used to treat pain. During the Socratic era, electrogenic torpedo fish (Scribonius longus) were used to treat arthritis and headache. In the Middle Ages, electrostatic generators were used, and the discovery of the electric battery in the 19th century led to further experimentation.
  • The use of electrical stimuli for pain relief was popularized in the 19th century and became widespread in the 1960s and 1970s using battery power.

Theory

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Evidence

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Safety

Many complementary techniques are practiced by healthcare professionals with formal training, in accordance with the standards of national organizations. However, this is not universally the case, and adverse effects are possible. Due to limited research, in some cases only limited safety information is available.

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.