Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is via a battery-operated device used to reduce pain a person is experiencing associated with:
- Back and neck pain
- Joint pain
- Muscle and tendon pain
- Various sports injuries
- Diabetic neuropathy
- Labor pain
- Menstruation pain
The non-invasive and non-pharmaceutical technology works by sending small electrical currents into the body via leads connected to electrodes that stick to the body part being treated. The electrical current effectively reduces the amount of pain impulses that are coming into the spinal cord for transmission to the brain where it is integrated and interpreted - as pain. It may work to increase the release of endorphins, the body’s own pain killing hormones through stimulation of the pituitary gland and other central nervous system structures. The pain relief duration is generally considered as occurring during the application process and for a short term thereafter. [Click HERE for article on the mechanism of how TENS works to reduce pain]
A TENS unit is small, lightweight and battery operated which offers the convenience of portability, and on-the-go use capability. Therapists can also send the unit with their patients who are suffering from pain for use at home, or clipped to a belt while they engage in everyday activities.
How to Use a TENS Unit
1. Electrode pad placement: position the pads so they are on the sides of the area being treated and are at least 1 inch apart. TENS should not be used with electrodes placed:
- On the front or sides of your neck
- Over your temples
- On your mouth or eyes
- Over irritated, infected, or broken skin
Note: Some people may be allergic to the electrode pad, which may manifest as skin redness with slight welts. If this occurs, hypoallergenic pads are available.
Cautions: In addition, the use of TENS is cautioned against use with pregnant women (abdominal and pelvic area), people with epilepsy, heart problems, or who have a pacemaker/defibrillator, without the advice of their doctor.
2. Activation and Adjustment of Intensity: When you turn on the TENS device you will feel a tingling sensation in your skin and perceived muscle contraction. A dial allows you to control the intensity of the electrical impulses. Start low and gradually adjust upward until the sensation feels strong, but comfortable. Upon completion of treatment, switch the device off.
- The “frequency” referrers to the number of electrical pulses per second. High-frequency pulses (80 to 120 cycles per second) appear to be better suited for treating pain, therefore it is recommended that the highest intensity be applied that the patient can handle.
3. Observations: Research, while ongoing, points to treatment strategies that have increased the effectiveness of TENS use for pain treatment. They are:
- Placement of electrodes over acupuncture sites – may assist in endorphin production
- Repeated use over time appears to enhance its effectiveness in reducing pain