Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) devices work on the principle that they deliver pain relief by stimulating the nervous system to block the pain ‘gateway’ to the brain. They aim to do this by delivering small electrical pulses via electrodes placed on the skin.
TENS devices can vary in strength and application and the claimed treatment areas depend on where on the body the electrodes which deliver the electrical pulses are placed. Marketers are advised to hold evidence to demonstrate that their product is defined as (or defined as equivalent to) a standard TENS device and therefore able to make those claims are which are generally accepted only for such devices (see below).
CAP accepts that standard TENS devices can temporarily relieve minor aches and pains when used alongside traditional pain medication. However, we understand that not all devices use the same frequencies and results may vary from person to person. Marketers are therefore advised to avoid claims that TENS devices work for everyone or that they are guaranteed to relieve pain.
In 2012, the ASA considered an ad which claimed that alongside traditional pain relief medication, a TENS device could be used to “ease pain”. In that context, the ASA considered that the submitted evidence was sufficient to show that the device played a contributory role in general and temporary pain relief (Lloyds Pharmacy, 1 August 2012).
In 2018 the ASA considered a TV ad for a TENS device which contained a voice over which included a statement that the device provided “effective relief of minor aches and pains” and that “you can you use it alongside your current pain relief medication”. The ASA considered the voice-over implied that the product would provide effective relief when used on its own and was suitable to be used alongside pain medication, rather than the accepted claims that it could temporarily relieve minor aches and pains only when used alongside pain medication. Additionally, although a significant qualification about the provision of temporary pain relief alongside current medication was included in the ad in the form of on-screen text, the ASA considered that this information was presented in a light colour against a light background, making it difficult to read. For this reason, the ASA ruled that the ad was unlikely to effectively communicate material information about the product’s efficacy (Medi-Direct International Ltd, 28 March 2018).
The ASA and CAP have yet to be provided with evidence that TENS devices can be used to provide anything other than the temporary relief of minor aches and pains, or that they can do this without being used alongside traditional pain medication. Marketers are therefore advised that they should hold robust clinical evidence before making claims to treat more serious pain such as chronic pain, labour pain or post-operative pain. In 2014 the ASA considered an ad which made claims that TENS Electrode gloves could be used to help relieve pains associated with conditions such as arthritis, sports injuries, RSI and Raynaud’s syndrome. Because the advertiser had not supplied any evidence to support those claims, the ASA considered that the ad was misleading (Medi-Direct International Ltd, 29 January 2014).
Updated 30 April 2018.
See also entry ‘Medical Devices’.