Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

What is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy involves the use of low-voltage electric currents to treat pain. Electrodes or mediums for electricity to travel to the body, placed on the body at the site of pain deliver electricity that travels through the nerve fibers. The electric currents block the pain receptors from being sent from the nerves to the brain. A patient will receive a small, battery operated TENS machine to use at home. In most cases, a doctor, physical therapist, or acupuncturist adjusts the machine to the correct settings. The provider shows the patient how to use the machine before sending him or her home with the TENS device.

What is TENS therapy used to treat?

TENS therapy can be used to treat both chronic (long lasting) and acute (short-term) pain. The most common conditions that TENS therapy is used to treat are:

What are the risks and side effects of TENS therapy?

A patient must know how to properly use the TENS device to avoid any damage or injury. There are typically no side effects when using TENS therapy. In rare cases, patients may have burns or rashes at the sites where the electrodes are placed. No other risks or side effects are known.

What is the outlook for people who use TENS therapy?

For some patients, TENS therapy offers instant and prolonged pain relief. These patients can have permanent pain relief after just a few uses. Others may need to use TENS therapy for an extended period of time. Results vary based on severity of pain and the type of condition that is being treated.

Although the TENS device offers pain relief to some people, its effectiveness has not been proved. Also, experts cannot agree about the conditions that should be treated by TENS therapy. This type of therapy is an alternative treatment. Some people may want to use traditional medicine with alternative treatments.



This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. For additional health information, please contact the Center for Consumer Health Information at the Cleveland Clinic (216) 444-3771 or toll-free (800) 223-2273 extension 43771. If you prefer, you may visit or This document was last reviewed on: 9/16/2015