Pain

Electricity as chronic pain medicine

Several types of "electroceuticals" might ease longstanding pain.

By , Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

cropped photo showing the hands of a physical therapist attaching TENS pads to a woman's back for pain therapy

You might be willing to try anything to relieve chronic pain, even getting zapped with tiny shocks of electricity. The concept began evolving long before Ben Franklin conducted his famous experiments with a kite and a key; for example, the ancient Greeks used the natural electrical discharges of torpedo fish to relieve headache and gout. Eventually, as scientists figured out what electricity was and how to use it safely, they applied it to medicine. Today, there are several types of "electroceutical" therapies available to treat pain. Three have our attention.

TENS therapy

In transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy, a machine sends pulses of non-painful, low-intensity electricity to electrodes placed on the skin. The strength of the current and the frequency of the pulses (the number per second) remain consistent throughout a 20-minute session.

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About the Author

photo of Heidi Godman

Heidi Godman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter

Heidi Godman is the executive editor of the Harvard Health Letter. Before coming to the Health Letter, she was an award-winning television news anchor and medical reporter for 25 years. Heidi was named a journalism fellow … See Full Bio
View all posts by Heidi Godman

About the Reviewer

photo of Anthony L. Komaroff, MD

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter

Dr. Anthony L. Komaroff is the Steven P. Simcox/Patrick A. Clifford/James H. Higby Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and editor in chief of the Harvard … See Full Bio
View all posts by Anthony L. Komaroff, MD

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