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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS Unit) for Pain Relief

What is a TENS unit?

A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit is a device that treats pain. It is small enough to hold in your hand. It comes with wires and pads that attach to the skin.

Woman using a TENS unit while reading on a bed

A TENS unit sends tiny electric signals to nerves near painful areas. The signals go from the device through wires placed on the skin with pads. The electric impulses activate nerves to reduce pain.

A TENS unit sends tiny electric signals to nerves near painful areas. The signals go from the device through wires placed on the skin with pads. The electric impulses activate nerves to reduce pain.

The feeling caused by TENS may feel like a tingle or a gentle massage.

Your care team will teach you how to use the TENS unit. Follow all their instructions.

Closeup of a TENS unit on a black background.

One of the benefits of using a TENS unit is that it does not involve needles or anything invasive.

Benefits of TENS

Benefits of TENS include:

  • Easy to use
  • Does not involve needles or anything invasive
  • A non-drug method of treating pain
  • Decrease swelling
  • Little or no side effects
Nurse attaches TENS unit pads to little boy's skin.

A risk of TENS is that the device can interfere with drug patches near the electrodes.

Risks of TENS

Risks of TENS include:

  • TENS could interfere with drug patches if they are near the TENS electrodes.
  • Sometimes a rash may develop in reaction to the pads on the skin.
  • The buzzing, tingling, or pricking feeling may be annoying to some people.


Reviewed: February 2022