TENS Units - What Does Research Say?

In continuing our look at the effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, we will review a variety of studies to see what research is saying about TENS.  With opioid addiction at an all time high, alternate therapies to treat pain are vital in helping patients live a quality, pain-free life.  However, finding treatments that truly work is more important than blindly reaching for solutions that make promises without being able to deliver. 

History of TENS

Believe it or not, channeling electricity to treat pain actually dates back to ancient Egypt when practitioners would apply electrogenic fish to painful areas of the body.  In the 18th Century, generators were used to deliver electronic pulse to pain sites, but 19th Century pharmaceutical advances led to a decrease in this type of therapy.  However, in 1965, interest was once again sparked by researchers Melzack and Walls who published “Pain Mechanisms:  A New Theory.”  This article suggested electrical stimulation to specific areas of the spine could reduce pain.  


Low Frequency TENS Therapy 

Low frequency TENS therapies use between 1 - 10 Hz.  Generally, patients apply pads to areas of pain, acupressure points or specific locations on the spinal column.  Low frequency TENS therapies have been found effective in treating the following conditions: 


  • Spinal cord injury with neuropathic pain

  • Muscle soreness

  • Low back pain

  • Fibromyalgia


Low frequency TENS is usually administered up to four times a day for 30 minutes at a time.  Patients reported lower levels of pain with ongoing therapy versus short bursts of TENS.


High Frequency TENS Therapy


High frequency TENS therapies use between 50 - 200 Hz of electrical current in pulse mode to treat various conditions.  Patients are generally encouraged to use the maximum frequency that can be tolerated without causing pain or discomfort.  High frequency TENS therapies have been found effective in treating these conditions: 


  • Joint pain

  • Sciatica

  • Cancer pain

  • Neck pain

  • Chronic pain

Ongoing studies are being conducted to see how TENS impacts a variety of painful conditions.


How Do I Know Which Frequency to Use?


In determining which frequency setting and mode of therapy to use for your specific condition, your best bet is to consult your chiropractor.  Chiropractic care professionals have the most experience using TENS.  Drawing upon this expert knowledge of the nervous system, acupressure points and treating pain effectively can help get the most relief if using a TENS unit.  Your chiropractor can also adjust you correctly to make TENS more effective for your specific condition.


Closing Thoughts from Dr. Tali

While TENS therapy is not a miracle cure for pain, it does offer relief for many patients.  Using this tool as a part of a comprehensive therapy plan is a move in the right direction to treating pain.  At Radiant Health Chiropractic, we not only aim to treat pain, but move your body back into alignment toward wellness.  You deserve an active, pain-free life.  Call today for an appointment so we can advise you about TENS therapies, adjustments and other modalities to support your whole body health.  

In wellness,

Dr. Tali