TENS Therapy for Pain Management - What is TENS
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TENS Therapy for Pain Management - What is TENS

What is a TENS unit and how does it control pain? Answers to common questions about TENS therapy.

My doctor recommended TENS therapy for my acute pain. What is TENS and how does it work?

If you have arthritis or chronic pain your doctor may recommend that you do physical therapy and receive treatment with a TENS unit. TENS is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation which is a treatment used in physical therapy for pain relief. It is a non-invasive way of stimulating the nerves by way of an electrical pulse delivered through electrodes attached to the skin. Additionally TENS is being used for pain management after surgery and other conditions causing severe pain and are also being used to control labor pains in pregnant women. Use of TENS units prior to 36 weeks gestation has not been established as safe and really would serve no purpose until labor ensues.

How often is TENS used for any one purpose?

TENS units are sometimes used 24/7 for issues such as phantom pain after an amputation. More often, however, TENS treatments are used in intervals and the pain relief lasts for several days. Application for chronic ongoing pain might require TENS treatment for three or four hours every day. Your physical therapist or doctor will work with you to determine how often to use the therapy and where and how to place the electrodes.

Will TENS heal my condition?

It is important to realize that TENS units do not remove the cause of the pain but rather control and diminish the sensation of pain. You may be in the process of healing over time while the TENS therapy controls your pain. The treatment also may allow for a greater amount of relaxation of the affected area which may be helpful in healing. The TENS unit is not to be confused with the EMS - Electro Muscular Stimulation unit sometimes used by athletes for muscle training and rehabilitation.

Are there some people who should not use TENS?

People with seizure disorders or who have pacemakers should not use TENS devices. You should always check with your doctor before using a TENS device.

How Does the Unit Prevent Pain?

The TENS unit works in two ways. The first is by stimulating nerve cells at a high frequency that causes the brain to block pain messages back to tissue and secondly low frequency stimulation causes the brain to produce endorphins which are natural pain relievers.

The use of electrical stimulation for pain relief has been practiced for hundreds of years, however, the current TENS unit was patented in the US in 1974. There are units that are made for the consumer that are portable and affordable.

How much does it cost?

TENS units can start in price around $50 USD and go upwards from there. Many units are priced in the $100 USD range. You should be able to try one out for a period of time before purchasing one for extended home use.

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Comments (5)

I worked with the TENS unit in my nursing as well as personally. It seems to have a varied response of success.

I have heard that as well from different people Susan. I have read some accounts that say it doesn't work well and others that swear by it. I am hopeful as I am supposed to try one for my neck. I just had steroid injections in the muscle - ouch. Was it helpful for you personally/?

I had TENS treatments after an accident and susequent surgery to reconstruct my ankle. I found it did help with pain management, some days more than others. Great article!

That is encouraging - good to hear.

good reading. will study this therapy.