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TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine

Please note that this information resource should be used alongside the manufacturer’s instructions for the TENS machine you are using.

What is TENS and how does TENS work?

TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It is a gentle, patient controlled therapy which helps provide pain relief.

It works by exciting sensory nerves and blocking pain signals before they can be received by the brain and by the production of the body’s own pain killing chemicals. TENS also helps with relaxation and a sense of wellbeing. It can be used to treat both acute and chronic pain symptoms.

What does the treatment involve?

The non-invasive treatment involves applying soft gel pads around the painful area. The pads connect, with leads, to a small device that easily clips to a belt or pocket. The TENS machine delivers mild electrical impulses through the skin to the nerve fibres beneath.

The machine has several settings and can be adjusted manually to suit the individual user. Some TENS machines have dual channels, which allows 2 painful areas to be treated at the same time. Or 4 pads can be placed around one area. The pain nurses can help when needed.

How long can I use the TENS for?

TENS therapy can be administered for as long, or as frequently as needed. However, 30 minutes is believed to be the minimal effective time.

If using a TENS for prolonged periods it is recommended to change the position of the pads slightly to avoid skin irritation.

Are there any side effects?

A TENS machine has few side effects. The most common side effect is an allergic type skin reaction to the gel pads. Pads should not be placed on broken or damaged skin. You can also get low-allergy electrodes if needed.

Are there any contraindications?

As with all treatments and medications, it may not be suitable for everyone. The clinician recommending TENS therapy will be aware of your needs and will only suggest it if it is suitable for you.

Can I take other medicines at the same time to ease my pain?

TENS therapy can be used by itself or with other pain relieving medications and treatments. If it proves effective for managing your pain it may reduce the need for some medications. This should always be done in consultation with your doctor or the pain team.

TENS machine safety and maintenance

A TENS machine can be used whilst in bed but it must be taken off before going to sleeping.

It must not be worn near to water. If the machine gets dirty, switch it off and disconnect it from any electrical source and clean it using a slightly damp soft cloth. You should always make sure the machine and its leads are in good condition before using it.

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about your TENS machine or treatment, please contact the Pain Team on 0114 271 7397 or switchboard on 0114 271 7000 and bleep 139.

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Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

Resource number: PAI9

Resource Type: Article

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Western Bank
S10 2TH

United Kingdom

Switchboard: 0114 271 7000

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