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Should I Get a TENS Machine?

A TENS machine (that's Transcutaneous-electrical-nerve-stimulation) is a little gadget that uses small electrical impulses to zap pain-carrying nerves. And you can buy them from about fifteen pounds. But should you?

TENS machines are generally used for long-term pain from post-surgical problems, arthritis, fibromyalgia and back pain. Sometimes TENS machines are used on pregnant women during labour.

They come with sticky pads that you attach to your skin. A small electric current is then delivered to that body part, usually felt as a mild tingling sensation.

TENS Machine

Apart from for people with pacemakers, heart problems or epilepsy, TENS machines are generally considered very safe.

The theory behind the use of a TENS machine is called the Pain-Gate Theory. This proposes that increased non-painful sensations create a traffic jam in the spinal cord, preventing painful messages from getting to the brain.

Research looking at the effectiveness of TENS is, as usual, conflicting.

Very large studies tend to fail to produce clear results either for or against TENS use, with variability in positioning of electrical pads, subjectivity of pain and difficult to control external factors all limiting the quality of research.

That said, some people do report great results, and so TENS machines warrant further study and their use shouldn't be excluded, especially if you are suffering from long-term pain.

It is, however, important to note that TENS is not a cure for pain and is only likely to provide short term pain relief while the machine is in use.

If you have tried other most approaches to pain management and have had no success, a TENS machine may be a worthwhile option to try, even as a means of experiencing temporary relief.