Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a form of therapy that uses electrical impulses to stimulate the nerves and reduce pain. It is a non-invasive, painless treatment option that has been used for over a century to relieve pain, improve muscle strength, and promote healing.
TENS uses a small device that sends electrical impulses through the skin to stimulate the nerves and reduce pain. The device is typically connected to the skin via adhesive pads, which are placed over the area of pain. The electrical impulses mimic the signals that the brain sends to the nerves to block pain signals, which can reduce the sensation of pain.
TENS is often used to treat chronic pain conditions such as lower back pain, arthritis, and neuropathic pain. It is also used to treat pain related to conditions such as fibromyalgia, headaches, and menstrual cramps. TENS is also used in physical therapy and rehabilitation to help manage pain and improve function.
TENS is also used in the treatment of chronic pain conditions such as pelvic pain, vulvodynia and myofascial pain. TENS is considered to be a safe and effective treatment option for a wide range of pain conditions. It is non-invasive, painless, and has few side effects. Furthermore, it can be used in conjunction with other treatment options, such as medication and physical therapy, to enhance their effectiveness.
It’s important to note that TENS is a medical treatment and should only be administered by a licensed healthcare professional. Patients should consult with a healthcare professional before starting any form of TENS to ensure that it is safe and appropriate for them.
How Does a TENS Machine Work?
Electrodes are placed on the skin (hence the name transcutaneous) and the nerves stimulated by a small electrical pulse. At a high pulse rate this has the effect of blocking the impulses that transmit pain messages to the brain. In addition a low pulse rate can be used which stimulates the production of the body’s own pain suppressing hormones, endorphins. The hand held TENS unit is used to control the intensity of the impulses, the pulse rate and the time the stimulation is applied. It is usually recommended that the unit is used for twenty minutes to thirty minutes during which time the pain is blocked by the electrical impulses. pain relief however persists after switching off the unit due to the production of endorphins.
What Type of Pain Does a TENS Machine Block?
The most effective use of these machines is for the relief of chronic pain from joints, muscles or nerves and is not recommended for pain from other conditions such as appendicitis, hepatitis etc. For those with chronic pain that require strong drugs for relief TENS can be very effective and is a good alternative to increasing the level of painkillers required.
Can You Use TENS During Labor?
TENS is becoming increasingly popular as a non drug method to help control labor pain. The electrodes are placed on the back and the intensity controlled by the woman in labor. As the level of pain during labor increases the intensity of the stimulation can be increased accordingly giving her complete control. During labor the machine is often used in two ways. During a contraction a high pulse rate is used to block the pain and between contractions a lower pulse rate is used to stimulate endorphin production which in turn helps to lower the pain of contractions. TENS can be used right from the beginning of labor, before the pain has increased in order to stimulate endorphin production. This is more effective than waiting until labor is more advanced. One caution we should mention here is that the use of TENS machines before the 37th week of pregnancy has not been shown to be safe for the developing fetus so should not be used.
How Safe is TENS?
Using a TENS machine is safe provided you follow the safety guidelines. You should not use this method if you have epilepsy or have a heart pacemaker as the electrical stimulation can disrupt it. If you have pain then you should always consult a physician to diagnose the cause before you use TENS. It should not be used for pain from underlying medical conditions such as appendicitis or for anyone who has heart disease unless recommended by your physician.
Never use the electrodes:
• In the mouth
• on the groin
• on broken skin or wounds
• on each temple
• close to the eyes or on the head
• on areas of skin that are numb or desensitised
Essentially, TENS machines work by shooting electrical pulses through electrodes that are attached to the skin. These pulses interrupt the electrical signals that are sent to the brain to let it know that your body is hurting. By interrupting them, the pain is eased or even eliminated.
There are two ways the TENS machine is thought to work.
• Low Frequency: The lower frequencies, 2-5 Hz, are believed to cause the body to react. The reaction creates natural painkillers, or endorphins. The endorphins block the pain naturally and while popular, this isn’t the usual method of using TENS.
• High Frequency: For more intense pain, higher frequencies, 90-130 Hz, work to actually interrupt those pain signals being sent to the brain. This is the most common use for the machine and while you start slow, it’s not uncommon to need to up the frequency to find the best block.
How to Use It
Your machine should come with detailed instructions, which should be followed. However, there are some general use instructions that we can list here. Make sure the machine is off before applying the electrodes. You can test to ensure that it’s working by turning it on while holding the pads in your fingers. If it tingles, it’s working. When putting the electrode pads on, be sure to avoid any sensitive or irritated areas and only apply to clean skin on either side of the pain. Electrodes need to be covered in conductive gel and must be placed at least an inch apart, preferably a little further. Tape them down if you plan to be moving around much.
Turn the machine on at its lowest setting and gradually turn it up until you can feel the tingle. You will need to feel a fairly strong sensation, but not painful. If the current causes muscles to contract, turn it down. The length of the session is up to you. It will need to be at least 45-60 min. but you can safely use the machine for up to 12 hours. At the end of the session, turn it off and remove the pads.
Who Can Use TENS
This technology isn’t best for everyone. Some people get more of a benefit than others and some won’t notice much of a difference in pain levels at all when using TENS. Also, if you are pregnant, have a pacemaker, epilepsy or a heart disease, you should stay away from this type of treatment. In some cases, TENS is used during labor, but in this case, you would need to consult a doctor. As an alternative pain treatment, you’ll find that this works best on muscle pains, or those in the joints or caused by nerves. The electrical pulses are far less effective on things like headaches, chest pains or stomachaches and intestinal issues. That being said, there aren’t any real side effects from the use of this machine, so you can certainly experiment to find out whether or not it works for you.
Is TENS Therapy Safe to Use in Old Age?
Since TENS treatment involves electrical current that stimulates nerve activity it is not safe for everybody. Certain individuals have adverse reactions from even the slightest electrical pulses. Men or women who have a pacemaker should never use TENS for pain relief because the electric pulses can interfere with the life saving mechanism. Anyone who has a weak heart or a heart defect should not use the machine. People who have seizures should not use TENS because the electrical current may trigger a seizure. When trying any new pain treatment, including TENS, people should consult their doctor to determine whether they are a good candidate. A physician considers a patient’s current health as well as their medical history.
Old Age & TENS Units
In most cases, elderly patients can use the TENS electrical stimulation method to safely reduce or eliminate their pain. Elderly people who no longer want to rely on different pain medications to feel better should consider trying a TENS treatment. The procedure has helped many people eliminate pain so they can complete their daily activities without taking pain medication. The TENS procedure is very simple and provides immediate results.
In conclusion, TENS is a versatile and effective treatment option for a wide range of pain conditions. It is non-invasive, painless, and has few side effects, making it an excellent choice for patients who are looking for a safe and effective way to manage their pain and improve their overall health and well-being.