TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and it’s a type of treatment which uses low-voltage electric currents to help reduce pain. TENS is performed with a battery-powered device that’s small and portable, which is connected using two or more electrodes that use conductive adhesive gel to adhere to the skin. The TENS unit pads are placed at various locations on the body, typically on the painful area or a nearby pressure point. The electrodes conduct electricity from the device through the skin to the body; this creates a circuit which allows the electrical pulses to travel to the affected area of the body.
Many people who elect to use a TENS unit find that they experience less pain when the current is delivered. This is the result of the electrical impulses sending signals to the brain, which block the normal pain signals the body sends. There are reports stating that these electrical impulses also cause the body to produce endorphins, a natural painkiller, which help block the pain.
TENS units are used to help reduce pain caused by several different types of conditions and illnesses. The devices are used most often to treat pain resulting from joint, muscle, or bone problems. Health conditions such as osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia cause chronic pain, which may be treated with a TENS unit. Pain from other physical conditions such as neck pain, lower back pain, bursitis, or tendinitis can also be treated effectively with a TENS unit.
The TENS unit may be set for different wavelengths and frequencies and, depending upon the setting, the device will send out electrical impulses in a steady flow or in bursts; the intensity of the electrical impulses may also be changed. Typically, your doctor or physical therapist will work with you to determine the appropriate settings to help with your specific pain levels. TENS therapy, however, does not have to be done in a clinical setting; with proper training, you can use your TENS unit in the comfort of your own home.
TENS units are considered safe, although, if used incorrectly, these devices can cause you harm. If you’re going to be using the TENS unit at home, have your medical provider or physical therapist show you how to properly operate the device. If you’re using an alternative treatment of any kind, be sure to inform your medical provider about it before starting to use the TENS unit.
TENS units can also be used to help increase a patient’s range of motion, especially for those suffering from frozen shoulder or adhesive capsulitis. During recent studies, TENS units were able to increase the range of motion in the shoulders of such patients more than other treatments, such as manipulation, heat, and exercise. There have also been advancements in TENS treatments for preventing migraines and providing external cranial neurostimulation. One study even showed that when patients utilized a TENS device, their use of pain medication fell by almost 75 percent and the patients had no contraindications or significant side effects.