Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is commonly used to control pain from many causes. TENS is popular because it’s cheap, safe, and can be self-administered. In Canada, the results from one survey of 50 hospitals estimated over 450,000 uses of TENS annually.

How effective is it?

Generally, “TENS provides initial relief of pain in 70% to 80% of patients, but the success rate decreases after a few months or longer to around 20% to 30%,” according to one reviewer. Unfortunately, because many of studies were poorly designed, just how much more effective it is compared to placebo is debatable.

Mark Johnson, PhD from Leeds Metropolitan University has done extensive research in this field. He states it would be “inappropriate to dismiss the use of TENS in acute pain until the reasons for the discrepancy between experience and published evidence are fully explored.”

Until then, here are some cautions. Get approval from your physician before starting TENS if you have:

  • Pacemaker
  • Heart disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Pregnancy

7/22/06 21:52 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.