DIY Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulator


Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation is a relatively new concept based on the more invasive implantable Vagus Nerve Stimulation devices. Originally, the implantable devices would require surgery to put a battery and nerve stimulator in your neck to treat epilepsy or severe depression.

Some suggested applications of Vagus Nerve Stimulation now include:
- Treatment of Anxiety, Depression
- Stimulation of the Migrating Motor Complex in the digestive system to help issues such as Irritable Bowel, Small Intestine Bacteria Overgrowth, Delayed Gastric emptying
- Reducing pain and inflammation in the body (maybe because of MMC improvements)
- dampening Tinnitus
- reduction of atrial fibrillation symptoms

Obviously do your own research on the potential benefits. While the implanted device does has some research favoring its use, the transcutaneous approach has less scientific studies. The main study as of December 2019 is the following, which uses a modified TENS device to stimulate the vagus nerve by attaching a clip to the tragus of the ear, which contains a branch of the vagus nerve.

The afib study is below, and it uses a device to treat tinnitus:

The device that afib study used is here:

Obviously, that device is a bit pricey, but we can replicate the device using cheaper options.

Disclaimers: transcutaneous vagus nerve stimulation's benefits haven't been validated by the FDA, and there's no promise of a cure of any condition. When using TENS units, please read the instructions and precautions.


Here's what you need:

1) A TENS Unit that will let you set the frequency, pulse width, and intensity. This one, I like because it also has the microcurrent mode (think Alpha-Stim), but you can get anything in their InTENSity line that has the TENS mode. InTENSity Micro Combo unit

2) 2 pairs of ear clips black ear clip electrodes

Note: you can order the ear clips with your TENS device and probably save 50%

3) A Dremel or Rotary device with a cut-off wheel attachment
Example of a Cut off wheel

4) Super Glue - any will do.

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Step 1: Disassemble One of Two Ear Clips

You should have 4 one-sided ear clips to start with. We're going to make two double-sided ear clips out of them.

So, set aside the first two. We're just gonna take them apart and keep the side with the electrode on it. The flat side with no electrode can be discarded.

Step 2: Cut Off the Non-Electrode End of One Side of the Clip.

With the two remaining clips, we need to cut off the circular end of the non-electrode side of the clip. This is where the other electrode will go.

With a Dremel or tool of your choice, carefully remove just the circular part of the non-electrode side of two clips.

Step 3: Glue the Electrodes Together

You want to take one of the electrodes in step #1 and glue it to one of the electrodes from Step #2.

Line up the two electrodes as best you can so that they a) face each other and b) touch when closed.

You'll want to stick a pencil or some sort of brace in the middle of the clips to keep them open while the glue is drying. Super Glue works fine. Just make them look like the photos above.

Step 4: Insert the TENS Wires

The InTENsity Micro Combo unit has two wires from each channel. Put one red and one back wire on either side of the ear clip as pictured above.

Step 5: Clip to the Tragus of Your Ear and Turn on the Device

Clip the electrodes to your ears as shown. get them wet by rubbing water on the surfaces to improve conduction

On the TENS unit, set the unit to TENS
- N (Normal, constant current)
- Pulse Width 200 microseconds
- Frequency 30Hz
- Time 20 minutes

Use the up Arrows to turn the device on - you will feel a prickly sensation in your ears. Go as high as you can tolerate, then back down one notch and leave it there for the duration.

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    3 Discussions

    Here is why this method is dangerous and should NOT be used, with most serious issues topping the list.

    1. The Intensity MicoCombo IMC) offers 2 Modes:

    (A) TENS (1 mA and above): This current level is way too strong for Vagus Nerve Stim (VNS).

    (B) Micro-current (700 uA and below). This is the correct current range for VNS, but the IMC's Pulse-width control for Micro-current mode starts at 2 mS (milliseconds) which is way to wide (long) and will expose your skin and the vagus nerve to excess current.

    2. The conductive Silicone clamp electrodes are not designed to be used per "Instructables."
    The relatively large mass of carbon-infused silicone inside the electrodes will require using higher current levels which could damage and overstimulate the nerve.

    3. Combining these two electrodes will alter the spring clamp and cause it to exert more clamp-pressure on the tragus. Clamp pain will result.

    4. Clamp-spring actuated electrode should not be used on the tragus, as the compressive force will damage skin tissue.

    Just because it is possible do something does not mean it is a good idea, or safe.

    1 reply

    Reply 19 hours ago

    Dr. Jonathan Honeycutt(NeuropsychologistPHD,

    I invite you to read the following:

    Specifically, "tVNS was performed using a TENS machine (V-TENS Plus, Body Clock Health Care Ltd, United Kingdom in studies 1 and 2 and EMS7500 Roscoe Medical in study 3) with customised auricular electrode clips attached on the inner and outer surface of the tragus of the ear (Auricular Clips, Body Clock Health Care Ltd, UK). Participants wore the electrode clips throughout all three recordings (baseline, stimulation, recovery). tVNS was applied continuously for 15 minutes with a pulse width of 200 µs and pulse frequency of 30 Hz. Amplitude was adjusted to the level of sensory threshold (usually 2-4 mA) until the participants reported a ‘pin-prick’ or ‘tingling’ sensation. The stimulus was then turned down until the stimulus was borderline perceptible and comfortable."


    8 days ago

    Very interesting, thank you for sharing.