Painkillers, and our dependence upon them, are in the national spotlight. Many who suffer with chronic pain are seeking alternatives to traditional medicine. One method many individuals are trying is TENS treatment.
The term “TENS” is short for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. It’s a type of therapy that treats pain using low-voltage electrical current. TENS treatments usually focus on joint and nerve pain in the back, neck, elbow, wrist, ankle, and other high-impact areas. While most users turn to TENS for chronic pain, many use it for pain relief after a traumatic injury, after surgery, or to combat arthritis. The TENS unit delivers a current to the body using electrode pads placed on the skin in the area where pain is felt.
Research on TENS treatment, both how it works and if it works, is relatively slim, but the treatment method dates back to the 1960s. It was then that the “gate control” theory of pain gained popularity. This is the theory upon which TENS technology was developed. Gate control is based on the idea that stimulating nerves closes a “gate” response in the spinal cord that can block the pain sensation. In short, the brain can’t process the pain because it’s busy processing the sensation created by the TENS unit. Pain relief to the area typically begins right away. It may stop shortly after the treatment ends, or it may last longer.
A second theory on why TENS treatment helps some is based on the idea that stimulating nerves in an affected area might help your body produce endorphins. Endorphins are chemicals that create pleasurable feelings, and they can diminish your brain’s perception of pain.
If TENS treatment seems like something you might want to explore, read on to learn more about your choices and options.
Since electrical current is a key factor in TENS units, the power source is a big consideration. Most TENS units come with USB ports so they can be recharged when the battery runs low. Some plug into the wall, which may limit where you can use them. A few TENS units still run on removable batteries. If you go this route, consider whether disposable or rechargeable batteries would work better for you.
It can be hard to predict what kind of impulse would provide the most relief, so units come pre-programmed with a variety of treatment modes. The modes deliver different results depending upon the body part being treated and the therapy needed. Some examples include kneading, cupping, acupuncture, shiatsu, and programs intended to help the abdomen, feet, and ears. If you haven’t used a TENS unit before, it’s a good idea to purchase one with a wide variety of modes.
It can be hard to predict the strength of the impulse that would be most effective in treating your pain. For this reason, you may want to look for a TENS unit with multiple intensity levels. Good machines usually offer around 20 levels. Machines with push-button digital adjustment allow more control over intensity than units with dials. Furthermore, a push-button configuration might help prevent you from accidentally jolting an area that’s already sensitive.
There are no concrete time limits for TENS machine use. However, experts say that it usually takes about 30 minutes to reach full efficacy. But they also advise not to use the machine for long periods of time without checking the skin around the electrodes. Furthermore, you should not sleep while using a TENS unit. Most TENS units have timers and auto shut-off protection to help prevent this from happening. The majority shut off after one hour of use.