Nerve Stimulation

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Nerve stimulation is the general term for pain control strategies that stimulate the nerves to feel other sensations — such as heat, cold, or vibration — which can "override" any feelings of pain. Check with your doctor before using any of these techniques. They may not be right for areas of the body that are still healing after surgery or radiation therapy. Selected examples include:

  • Cold or heat: Depending on the type of pain you have, cold packs or a heating pad may be helpful. Cold usually numbs the area to relieve pain, while heat is often effective in relieving sore muscles.
  • Massage or vibration: Massaging the painful area with the hands or a vibrating device may provide relief.
  • Menthol: Menthol creams, lotions, and gels are available for pain relief. Once applied directly to the skin, they increase blood circulation to the affected area and produce a warm (or cool) feeling that lasts for several hours. It’s best to try a small amount before deciding whether or not the sensation it creates is helpful with your pain.
  • Capsaicin: Capsaicin creams are made from a substance found in hot peppers. When applied to the skin, capsaicin creates a feeling of intense warmth that can help relieve pain. Some people perceive it as an unpleasant burning sensation, so it’s important to try a small amount on the skin before deciding whether or not to use it.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): If you have a specific site of pain that is mild and persistent, your doctor may recommend that you wear a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator) unit. This is a small electrical device that emits low-voltage vibrations through electrodes attached to your skin, creating a buzzing or tingling feeling. The vibrations can interfere with, or drown out, the pain messages your nerves are sending from your body to your brain.

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