TENS Therapy for Pain Management
One of the most unpleasant and uncomfortable sensations that can ever happen to your body is pain. Usually triggered by your nervous system to tell you that something isn’t quite right. Pain, and most especially, back pain, is something that has happened to most of us at some point in our lives with the major causes being: poor physical condition, poor posture, and overusing or injuring the muscles, ligaments or joints. Fortunately, there are now several effective measures available to provide relief to and help prevent pain and one of them is the Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy.
TENS therapy is a form of pain management and treatment technique which uses low voltage electric current to relieve pain by creating and sending harmless and pain-free electrical impulses that travel along nerve fibers beneath your skin and stimulates them, creating a tingling sensation to block other pain signals from reaching the brain. This is done with the use of a small, battery-powered device known as the TENS unit. Another thing the TENS therapy helps to achieve by stimulating the nerves is that it increases the levels of Endorphins, the natural pain killing substances produced by the body.
The TENS UNIT
Pain is relieved by the TENS therapy using TENS units which are said to operate on two theories, the “Gate Control Theory” which suggests that there’s a “gate” mechanism in the brain and spinal cord. When the gate is open, pain messages are passed to the brain making us feel pain, but when the gate is closed, these messages are blocked and that can help eliminate the sensation of pain. The second theory is the Endorphin Release which suggests that electrical impulses stimulate the production of endorphins in the body.
TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
These devices are connected to the skin using two or more electrodes to transfer mild electric current with the site of the electrode application basically at the site of the injury. They are powered by battery, rather than an electric current. They are also very small that they can easily fit in a pocket, pouch or purse, making them very portable and convenient to use. TENS units offer relief without going through the trouble of using drugs or worrying about addiction or the chemicals that you may consume.
There are adjustable settings on TENS units to control the intensity of stimulation but it can take some adjustment to find the correct level of stimulation. When operated on a high pulse rate of 90-130 Hz, this ensures that the “gate” is closed and the electrical impulses interfere with the pain messages. When they are set on low pulse rate of 2-5 Hz, it stimulates the body into producing its own natural painkilling chemicals known as Endorphins.
Researches investigating the effectiveness of TENS machines have so far been inconclusive. However, the use of the TENS machines has been effective in the past medically. With the application mostly in the cases of chronic pain. But even with this, the effect can still vary from individual to individual when treating the same condition. Some people even find that TENS does not help their pain at all.
Using a TENS Machine
When a TENS are used properly, they are generally safe, non-invasive and drug-free. Remember that a TENS machine is also a medical device and can cause harm if not used properly, so it is just as important to seek directions of use from your physician, doctor or other health professional as they are not suitable for all pain conditions.
Here are some precautions you can take when using TENS units
- Keep the electrode pads away from your eyes, brain or mouth as there may be unwanted reactions with the nerves located there.
- Make sure to switch off the machine before placing the electrode pads on your skin, and never use while sleeping!
- There should be no cuts, grazes on skin areas where you apply the electrode pads. Make sure the skin areas you apply them are clean and dry.
- If you intend to move around while using it, then fix the electrode pads to your skin with a tape. However, avoid using it when driving or operating machinery.
- When you start the machine, only turn it up gradually and set the pulse rate to the required setting (100 Hz should be okay for a start), if you turn it up too high, you may cause yourself over-stimulation which may make your pain even worse.
Proper maintenance of your TENS unit involves turning off the machine after the end of a session and disconnecting the electrodes from the machine. Removing the patches and wiping the areas where the patches were resting after each use is also very important. If your electrode pads are the rubber types, you can do the cleaning with just ordinary soap and water. Never pull directly on the wires to remove the pads.
TENS machines are available in hospitals. You can also buy them from certain manufacturers online and medical equipment suppliers and also from some pharmacies. However, they can be very expensive, so you can consider hiring or borrowing one first, just to try it out.
Who Can Use a TENS Machine?
Using TENS therapy is very much dependent on your health conditions and also, the problem you want to treat. People use TENS therapy to relieve pains of different categories. It is mostly used to treat acute and chronic conditions such as low back pain, tennis elbow, neck pain, osteoarthritis, etc. It is also often used for pain relief in the early stages of labor, particularly whilst a pregnant woman remains at home.
Never use TENS therapy to treat pain if:
- You have a pacemaker or you are in the first weeks of a pregnancy.
- You have epilepsy. If you need to, then don’t use the machine alone.
- You have a cochlear implant hearing device.
There are really no side effects when a TENS machine is used properly and according to the directives of your doctor. Always consult your doctor if you are thinking about using the Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or any other form of pain treatment.
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