What is a TENS Machine?

A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine is an electrical device designed to help treat pain, such as migraines, back and neck aches or muscular and joint pain, as well as being used as a drug-free pain-relief option during labor.

A small handheld TENS machine gives out little pulses of electrical energy that are felt as a buzzing sensation via pads attached to the skin, joined to the machine by wires. The idea behind this is that these pulses block pain signals between the area of ​​pain and the brain, and it is possible that the device helps produce endorphins – the body's natural pain killing chemicals.

How Do You Use it?

A TENS machine is used by attaching sticky rubber pads (the electrodes) to the skin either side of the area of ​​most intense pain. These are attached to the device by wires. The level of electrical impulses can then be controlled by the device which normally has a digital display and a series of settings.

Do They Work?

Whether they work or not has yet to be established. Some people find them very helpful in managing their pain, while others see no benefit. There is a possibility that some of the benefit could be psychological, with the user experiencing a feeling of control over their pain symptoms.

Uses of TENS Machines:

During labor: Approximately one in five women use a TENS machine during labor and many find it useful as a drug free option to manage pain during the early stages. Often the machines designed for this purpose have a boost function to use whilst contractions occur. As with any other pain, evidence on whether this works to manage pain is inconclusive. But some women do find that using them is helpful, possibly in part due to the feeling of control and the dis-tractive effect.

For back or neck pain: TENS machines can be used for back and neck pain, placing the electrodes on the skin close to the area causing the most pain.

For arthritis pain: They are ideal for this kind of joint pain in terms of being a non-invasive and drug free pain reliever. Again, evidence is inconclusive with some finding short-lived relief, some longer complaining and others none at all. However, it appears that for some this can form part of their pain relief management for arthritis.

For migraines: Some sufferers find a TENS machine useful and it should be put into action as soon as the first signs of a migraine appear. The electrodes can be placed on the head and also the neck to help tie any tension.