What is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation?

Transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation is a therapeutic practice based on the use of electrical stimuli. It is known by the abbreviation TENS or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, which designates its Anglo-Saxon name.

In principle, the functioning of this therapy is based on two mechanisms which are:

  • Gate Control
  • The endorphin

Gate Control is a theory that explains that electric current works like a gate. In other words, it allows block the transmission of the pain message to the cerebral cortex.

As for the second mechanism, it stimulates the endorphin production, enkephalin and dynorphin. These are analgesic substances secreted by the body.

Origin and history

We find the first traces of the use of electricity for curative purposes in Egyptian Antiquity. At that time, doctors used the electrical currents produced by torpedo fish and catfish. These animals were then considered to be an excellent gout remedy and migraines.

From the 18th century, this practice experienced a clear evolution with the increase in scientific studies and the production of severalelectrotherapy. However, it was not until 1965 that Ronald Melzack and Patrick Wall, respectively psychologist and physiologist, developed the first techniques of transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation. Since then, several hospitals have incorporated this practice into their medical prescriptions.

Health benefits and therapeutic indications

The transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation intervenes mainly in the treatment of several pains. It offers, in fact, analgesic and analgesic activities. Its main indications in medicine are as follows:

  • Joint disorders: gout and osteoarthritis of the knee
  • Chronic lower back pain
  • Painful periods
  • Pain felt during childbirth
  • Migraines and headaches
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In addition, several scientific journals mention the beneficial effects of this practice on neuropathic pain as well as acute and chronic nociceptive pain.

Course of a TENS session

In general, doctors and other healthcare professionals prescribe a transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation therapy. Thus, it is practiced mainly in clinics, hospitals or specialized centers.

During the first consultation, the therapist will ask a series of questions relating to the patient’s state of health. He then proceeds to a test of different types of stimulation and settings. The purpose of this maneuver is to determine the stimulation modalities (intensity, position of the electrodes and type of current) adapted to the subject. Thereafter, depending on the data collected and the desired result, the practitioner sets the duration and number of sessions for the treatment. This first contact generally lasts more than an hour.

For the remaining sessions, they mostly take place in the same place where the first consultation took place. However, for treatments that require several repetitions per day, it is possible to perform the sessions yourself at home or at work. To do this, the treatment centers provide a neurostimulator laptop to the patient.


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