What is a TENS Unit and Why Should I Use One?

What is a TENS Unit and Why Should I Use One?

The word TENS stands for “Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.” A TENS unit is a piece of equipment that helps to alleviate pain and discomfort associated with nerve-related pain conditions that are both acute and chronic.


The units are meant to send electronic pulses along the surface of the skin and along the nerve strands, in hopes of encouraging the body to produce higher levels of the natural painkillers, known as endorphins, to alleviate the pain signals being sent to the brain.

How Does It Work?

How you use a TENS unit will depend on the significance of your pain and how widespread it is. These units are capable of being adjusted to meet the needs of the user, so you can increase or decrease the intensity of the stimulation, which will lower or raise the voltage power.

To begin, little electrodes are placed around the body to target the specific areas of pain. When the current is turned on, the stimulation will travel through the electrodes and into the body, targeting nerve pathways and creating a tingling feeling. These sensations work to reduce the physical feelings of pain, or to disperse it and lower its intensity.


Theory Explanation of TENS Units

To get a better idea of what is going on in the body when an individual uses a TENS unit, there are two theories that can be considered.

The first is the “Gate Control Theory of Pain,”  which has to do with the signals that are sent to the brain from the spinal cord. It is theorized that the spinal cord possesses a type of gate, which opens when there is pain and shuts where there is none. This open gate then sends messages to the brain to create physical pain responses.

In order to reduce feelings of pain, the stimulation from the TENS unit confuses the signals and stops the gate from opening and sending information to the brain.

The second theory is called “The Endorphin Release,” which supports the idea that the electronic pulses from the TENS unit stimulate greater production of endorphins in the body. Endorphins act like natural morphine doses in the body, helping to alleviate pain messages from reaching the brain.


Common Uses

Some of the most common ailments that often find relief from a TENS unit include migraines, arthritis, acute and chronic pain, post-surgical pain, labor, cancer, and wound healing.

Hundreds of thousands of people utilize the power of the TENS unit on a daily basis to help alleviate their pains and to embrace a fuller life. There is no rulebook on the specific types of ailments that should use the TENS unit; however, speaking to a doctor ahead of time is a good idea to ensure this type of pain relief is advisable. 


There are a wide range of designs when it comes to these units, with many at-home TENS units available for personal use. Many come with a digital screen, so you may need to do your research ahead of time if you have specific preferences about the model you use.

For example, there are some wireless TENS units that are designed as pads that you can place anywhere on the body. These options are controlled with remote controls and are ideal if you need to use your unit both at home and on the go.

Other options include a transport combo unit, which can be set up on wheels and offers a variety of treatments, including electrotherapy and ultrasound wave therapy. Smaller designs can fit inside a pants pocket and come with carrying cases and re-usable electrode pads. The options are fairly widespread, so it’s up to the individual what kind of TENS unit will suit them best.

Why Should I Use a TENS Unit?

It is every individual’s choice how they deal with their acute or chronic pain. If you’re considering using this kind of therapy but you’re not sure what makes it so ideal, there are a few benefits to consider.

The obvious benefit is that these units can create the perception of being pain-free. TENS units come in a variety of styles and sizes, which means that many of your options will be fairly budget-friendly and also very compact in size.

Using a TENS unit may also help to improve nerve patterns and movement, and many newer models are being designed specifically for massage treatments for those who seek to relieve tension without pain.


Whether you buy one to use at home or have a professional use one on you, a TENS unit may be able to help relieve your pain symptoms in a few effective treatments. Like anything else, TENS units are not for everyone, but be sure to consider the information provided to learn a little more about these units and whether or not they can help you with your ailments.

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