TENS therapy electronic pulse massager for $16

My first thought when I saw this thing posted on boingboing was a flashback to a recent ebay search for an “electrosocket” (it’s a replacement part for a Telecaster)-- seems if you search for an electrosocket on ebay you bring up ‘related searches’ that are completely unrelated to guitar parts, namely adult sex toys that involve electronic stimulation, including NSFW images. And they do look just like this thing. . . so yeah, have fun with that.

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Calling it a quack cure it going a bit far, isn’t it?
There are some evidence suggesting that this technique helps alleviate pain in some individuals. No quackery so far.
As stated on the page there are different speculations on why this would be so. Another method could surely be placebo. Still no quack claims.
My personal hypothesis is that it can just feel nice and that in itself can subjectively alleviate the perceived amount of pain.
There’s good evidence saying that the perception of pain is very subjective and can vary depending on how the person feels in other respects. There’s also good evidence for people thinking massages are nice.
Combine the two, add a sprinkle of placebo effect and a possibility of a physiological response and that’s a recipe for lowering the perceived amount of pain in some individuals. Again, no quackery.

Now a quack cure would be saying someting like:

"This is a miracle machine that effectively cure all kinds of chronic pain through the magic of modulated electrical pulses.

The post does not say anything like that. It states that it’s and unproven way to reduce, not cure, body pain, which is indeed how these devices are marketed. For completeness and the scientific take on it he also included a quote from WebMD.

Now I don’t know what Mr. Frauenfelder’s intentions were when he posted this, but I certainly don’t see him making any quack claims in it.

And just to get in a personal anecdote as well that does not sing TENS’ praise:
I have chronic lower back pain since ten years back. It varies from day to day. Some days I’m a quivering heap of cold sweat that can’t get out of bed for several hours. Other days I’m mostly fine. Never pain free, but about half the days in a year, my back pain is a mere annoyance, like a good headache.
Through our national health system I got to go to a physical therapist and she suggested we try TENS, so we did. I quite liked it. My back felt somewhat better while it was going. Sadly, though, no lasting effect.
A couple of years later I bought a TENS unit myself to better be able to gauge if and when it might be helpful.

My conclusion: While it can feel quite nice while it’s running, it does fuck all for my back problems.


You’re absolutely right and maybe I mixed those ideas in my post. Chronic and acute pains definitely seem to be different beasts, and I would think involvement of muscle (as I believe was my case) vs more direct nerve-based pain would play a significant role in any treatment, but specifically electrical treatment.

@crenquis cites an interesting paper. The “met met” he references is really cool:

The met(hionine) form of the enzyme is three to four-times less efficient at catabolizing dopamine than the valine form… We recently demonstrated that Met/Met individuals have significantly
greater placebo responses than Val/Met and Val/Val and that the response
is highest when treated by a warm, caring practitioner.

I like the idea that my body is easy to fool–even though I’m probably a little bitter and cynical, it still knows how to enjoy things. Pharmacogenomics is a really promising field and will hopefully aid in untangling the drug-responders, placebo-responders and non-responders.

Yeah, I was thinking of that paper but too lazy to look it up, so thanks to @crenquis. But it’s amazing to think about the consequences of that for how we design experiments, and what it might have meant for experiment done in the past. If there is a genetic component to the placebo effect (and apparently a pretty strong one) then it opens up the idea that the way we select patients for studies may have at times unwittingly weighted those studies for or against placebo effects. I always think about selection bias when I look at studies - like I see ads on the Subway for “Join our study” and I wonder about what weird relationship there might be between people who ride subway that might skew the results in a way that will end up taking decades to unravel.

If the placebo effect is getting stronger in the US it could be because that gene is somehow being selected for. What other effects might that gene have? Maybe it makes you want to own a gun or helps to tolerate working at Walmart?

Jokes aside, I wonder if not having a health care system creates a genetic pressure to have a stronger placebo effect. You could almost imagine that really happening.

Suddenly I want to go to BAH fest.


Ooooh, I need to start on my “Why were pyramids designed for grain storage” presentation.


I do wonder about all the jerk-offs who have learnt how to spell placebo - but have zero experience with such devices.
I can confirm that their use will not enable you speak a new language, solve otherwise unfathomable theorum or dance like a star.
Nor will it CURE any condition I am aware of.
However, I certainly find TENS useful in relieving muscle tension and pinched nerves in my back - when the device is in use that is, and for some while afterwards.
They’re actually a quite powerful stimulation and the intensity is variable - which is just as well as some people are quite sensitive to the shocks they produce - but it is a matter of getting used to it. But then… what I know?
Maybe I wasn’t in pain in the first place.
Perhaps I wouldn’t know whether that was a number 9 bus up my arse or just a placebo?
Meh…you shade-tree experts can criticise if you like - in between taking selfies. Just remember that Tazers are the big brothers of TENS machines. Are they a fact or a placebo?

I get your frustration here. Electrically stimulating nerves and muscles is a real thing that has real results. This isn’t like putting an amber necklace on your baby for teething pain or hiding crystals in a secret pocket under your crotch. There is a real physical mode of operation that we can understand. I don’t have any knowledge of these machines at all, but I know I can get major headache relief by just flexing and relaxing my shoulders, so the idea that an electric jolt could help with certain kinds of pain seems very far into the realm of plausible.

Research showing it’s a placebo would be one thing, but saying, “electrical shocks reduce pain? that’s mystical woo” is totally unfounded.

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Perhaps you would be interested in my TWENTIES enhanced electronic therapy. It only uses natural solar energy and is designed to align the solar electricity in a proprietary manner that leads to instant relief from most ailments. One merely adjusts the alignment dial until the pattern that completely cancels your pain signal is achieved.


Thanks for your reasoned reply. Perhaps you have heard of accupuncture? I used to receive massage. One day my Chinese therapist asked if I was afraid of needles. When I said no he used them in a couple of treatments. Later he would routinely jab a bunch of needles into my back, connect those up to an industrial level TENS machine and come back in 10 minutes to do the massage. When I asked him why he did this he said he could work on me for 40 minutes pushing rock hard muscles by hand or wire me up and massage me after receiving TENS and it was like moving jelly. I also owned several of thes devices over the years and they do provide relief of pain. I’d also point out that electrical stimulation is used to aid bone breaks. (It has recently been discovered that electric current kills bacteria and a new kind of bandage that applies a current discharge is being developed). There is also a gadget going by the name of Thync - which seems somehow related to TENS - it uses transcranial electro stimulation and from all accounts works as advertised. Would like to try this one. http://www.thync.com/

O gosh most amusing. Perhaps it would work in conjunction with my Himalayan salt crystal negative-ion generating bedlamp. Hell I feel better just thinking about it.

I was going to grab this when I got home, but the coupon’s expired now. These are really annoying to shop for because there are far too many models with ambiguous difference and scant real details offered. (amperage, frequency, sometimes even battery type is hard to come by)


Amperage? Frequency? Battery type?
Like you would KNOW how to compare one device with another?
It is not a life-shattering purchase. You are not buying a car.
My advice - buy the cheapest - something under $20 - you will find that even they will be able to produce a level of power ranging from not enough to extremely unpleasant - though never sufficient to cause you harm. If you don’t care for it you have only blown $20. BTW - it will be a battery that you can easilly buy - most likely AAA or AA. You will know which battery type when it arrives.
Stop sweating.

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