Electrical Stimulation versus Vibration Technology

What are they, how are they different, and can they both be used to manage chronic pain?

Example TENS unit pictured above. This particular device is wireless. Image provided by Pixabay.

You may come across electrical and vibratory stimulation as two distinct methods for managing pain, but what do these mean exactly? Upon first glance, they seem similar... but are they? Can they both be used to manage chronic pain?

Electrical stimulation in the context of amputation pain is usually delivered in the form of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). Low-voltage electric currents are delivered locally via electrodes placed on top of skin of the residual limb at the site of pain. Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is an implanted variation in which a small pacemaker-like device sends mild electric currents to the spinal cord, masking pain signals before they reach the brain.

On the other hand, vibration technology like the TheraV ELIX involves oscillatory motion such as ultrasonic waves or mechanical shaking. The waves are very short, fast, and repetitive. Depending on the vibratory device, this technique may be delivered locally or to the whole body. Vibration therapy is celebrated for having many potential gains with few drawbacks, improving blood flow and promoting healing. People with limb loss generally find it approachable and are likely to respond well to it.

TheraV ELIX, a vibrating therapeutic device that is wearable.

No one truly understands why vibration and electrical stimulation help with amputation pain relief, however scientists have attempted to explain the reason through the Gate Control Theory of Pain. The Gate Control Theory of pain suggests that pain signals, which travel to the brain via nerve fibers, are filtered or “gated” by the spinal cord. Some signals are readily passed onto the brain while others are prevented from passing through when non-painful stimulation such as vibration and pressure is applied. Both electrical and vibratory stimulation produce non-painful signals during use. These two methods of pain management share other key similarities:

However, patients should be aware that they are different technologies requiring careful consideration on a case-by-case basis. Although there is little evidence that one is “better,” the effectiveness of each may vary from patient to patient (and often for no discernable reason). After all, pain is complicated and utterly incomparable from one patient to the next; such is the case for pain management.

Table 1. Analysis of vibration, TENS, and SCS therapies based on common feedback:

Finally, it is not uncommon for electrical and vibratory stimulation to be implemented together. In fact, there is evidence that using them together (instead of just one or the other) increases the chances of experiencing lasting positive effects in patients with chronic pain. If you or someone you love is suffering from chronic pain, consult a healthcare provider to learn whether electrical stimulation, vibration therapy, or both are viable tools for managing symptoms.

About Writer: Pranita Muralidhar

Pranita Muralidhar is passionate about health sciences, entrepreneurship, and connecting people with products that benefit them the most. By contributing to the blog, Pranita hopes to help raise broad exposure and awareness of TheraV ELIX. 

Learn more about Pranita at pranitamuralidhar.com

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Legal Disclaimer: All claims and results within are based on anecdotal evidence and literature reviews on vibration therapy research. 


The ELIXTM is not a medical device. Research and product claims have not been reviewed by the US Food and Drug Administration.



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