Are TENS Units Safe? Are There Any Side Effects?

If you’re using a TENS unit to address your chronic pain, you’re probably interested in understanding the side effects that using the unit might entail.

Thankfully, TENS units are safe when used properly. Most patients experience very few side effects when utilizing the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

These side effects are largely limited to minor burns or tingling when the voltage is too high, and there is too much electrical resistance in the body.

Nonetheless, most users probably don’t know what to avoid when using their TENS unit. In this article, we’ll explain how to avoid problems while using your TENS unit so that you can experience the side-effect free pain relief that you deserve.

How To Stay Safe With Your TENS Unit

When using your TENS unit, there are a few best practices which you should always apply.

These practices are:

  • Modulating your unit’s settings slowly so that you have time to adjust if it becomes too intense
  • Only applying electrodes to skin that is not too wet, too moist, or too dry
  • Refraining from applying electrodes to areas that are hairy
  • Being mindful of passing current through your body rather than from point to point on the surface of your skin
  • Avoiding TENS sessions longer than what the manufacturer suggests
  • Avoiding TENS sessions on areas that are burned

If you follow these best practices, your TENS experience will be a lot more effective and have a lot fewer risks of an unpleasant ending.

There are a few contraindications for TENS units that you should be aware of to avoid side effects.

These contraindications include using the TENS unit:

  • Laterally on the spine
  • On infected wounds
  • On areas that have nerve damage or numbness
  • Directly on any mole, skin tag, tumor, or wart
  • On broken or scaly dry skin
  • On puncture wounds
  • On any mucous membrane such as the bowels, tongue, or nostrils
  • Directly through the heart, liver, thyroid, pancreas, mammary tissue, or bladder
  • Directly through the brain, especially the cerebellum
  • If you have a pacemaker
  • If you have ferromagnetic bodily implants or prosthetics near the stimulation site
  • On the brain stem or back of the neck
  • Through the eyes and the optic nerves

Using the TENS unit in these locations can be dangerous or painful, and it may cause more side effects than you would expect. Some, like using the TENS unit over a puncture wound or broken skin, may give you a small burn or cause pain such that you immediately remove the electrodes before any damage is done.

Others, like using the TENS unit on moles, skin tags, warts, and tumors, may have no immediate consequences whatsoever. On the off chance that the electrical current stimulates cellular growth, however, these innocuous passengers on your body may become malignant.

Electricity can still be passed around tumor sites, but TENS units should not be used on tumors directly. Likewise, several of your organs are not suited to the TENS unit’s current. They may have their efficiency decreased when exposed to electricity, which will leave you wishing you hadn’t exposed them in the first place.

Working Around Limitations

Though TENS may be effective at treating neurogenic pain, it should be used only with great care on areas that have numbness or nerve damage.

The problem is not that the TENS current will cause damage on these areas inherently, but rather that you will not be able to feel anything if the current is too high and is starting to inflict damage.

If you can reliably test the current on an area of your body that is similar to the area with nerve damage without any problem, you can still use the TENS unit on the damaged area. Keep in mind that you should play it safe because your body won’t be able to give you the normal cues that you are overdoing it.

Finally, using the TENS unit such that it passes through your brain is undesirable. While the side effects cannot be known with certainty, the beneficial impacts are also unclear. Simply put, there’s no scientific reason why you should be using the unit to stimulate your brain, and it could cause you issues down the line.

Though patients should understand this by default, you should always stop using your TENS unit if you feel uncomfortable or in additional pain. The therapeutic purpose of the TENS unit is to make you more comfortable rather than less, and if you are in pain, it might be the wrong tool for the job.

Leave a Comment: