TENS Machines for the Relief of Pain
If you have chronic pain and need increasing levels of pain killers you may want to consider using a drug free method. One method that is increasing in popularity is the use of a TENS machine. TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation uses electrodes placed on the skin to deliver small electric pulses via the skin to the nerves. The machines can be bought without a prescription and are widely available. They are not expensive, the cheapest simple TENS machine is around $20 although a more complex machine that can be used for muscle stimulation as well as pain relief could be as much as $400.
How Does a TENS Machine Provide Pain Relief?
The electrical stimulation is delivered through electrodes which are placed on the skin. Small electric pulses are delivered through the electrodes to the nerves that transmit the pain messages to the brain. This is thought to block the pain messages so they do not reach the brain and hence cannot be felt. A high pulse rate is used to block these pain messages. When the machine is used at a lower pulse rate the production of endorphins is stimulated. Endorphins are the body's own natural pain killers so stimulating their production can reduce pain even after the machine is switched off. The hand held TENS units have controls to change the intensity, pulse rate and length of time the pulses are applied. Twenty to thirty minutes is usually recommended for effective pain relief.
What Type of Pain Should a TENS Machine Be Used For?
TENS machines are not recommended for all pain as they are not suitable for pain arising from medical conditions such as hepatitis or appendicitis etc. They are best used for chronic joint, nerve and muscular pain. A very popular use if for chronic back pain, very prevalent in our society! Some other examples include the relief of pain from arthritis, phantom limb pain, repetitive strain injury, labor pain and fibromyalgia.
The Use TENS During Labor
The use of TENS during labor has become increasingly popular as it is a non drug method that is under the complete control of the woman in labor. It is used in two ways. During a contraction the TENS unit is used at a high pulse rate to block the pain. Between contractions a low pulse rate is used to stimulate endorphin production which will then help to block the pain during a contraction. It should also be used at the onset of labor, before the pain increases to promote the release of endorphins before labor intensifies. One point to note however is that TENS has not been proven safe for use prior to the thirty seventh week of pregnancy.
Is TENS Safe?
TENS machines are very safe to use as long as you stick to the guidelines provided by the manufacturer of your machine. Read the instructions carefully and be sure to follow them. Make sure your pain has been diagnosed by a medical practitioner and is suitable for the use of TENS as a pain relief method. If you have epilepsy or a heart pacemaker you should not use a TENS machine. If you have a heart condition you should only use TENS under medical supervision.
You should not use the electrodes:
- on broken skin or wounds
- In the mouth
- close to the eyes or on the head
- on each temple
- on the groin
- on areas of skin that are numb or desensitised
TENS machines are safe to use and usually effective for the relief of pain. Some people however have reported that they did not find any benefit from their use. They do not provide a cure for pain but relieve the pain for a time that varies with the individual. Before you use a TENS machine be sure to consult with your physician to diagnose your pain and check that this method is appropriate for you.
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