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TENS Units and How They Can Help You Manage Pain

Updated on February 22, 2015
TENS units can help people to manage chronic pain
TENS units can help people to manage chronic pain | Source

Introduction

A TENS unit is an electrical device that stimulates muscles and nerves via electrical impulses to help the TENS user to manage pain and discomfort. TENS stands for 'Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation' and the device functions as follows:

  1. The patient attaches wires to the battery powered TENS unit.
  2. The other end of the wires attach to pads that conduct electricity.
  3. These pads are applied to the body over the affected area, normally using a gel for good conductivity.
  4. The TENS unit is turned on; the strength and rate of the electrical pulses can be easily altered.
  5. A typical TENS treatments lasts for between ten and thirty minutes.
  6. The pads are then removed and cleaned.
  7. Pain relief typically lasts for two to three hours.

Does it hurt?

The experience of using a TENS unit is not uncomfortable, since it only uses low voltage impulses to stimulate the nerves and muscles. A patient will feel a tingling or slightly stronger sensation, but it does not hurt. The pulses that the TENS machine produces are typically either quite rapid (more than 40 or 50 per second) or quite slow (five to ten per second).

Using a TENS unit does cause some tingling, but it is not unpleasant
Using a TENS unit does cause some tingling, but it is not unpleasant | Source

How does it work?

The principle behind using a TENS unit is that the electrical impulses help to alternately stimulate and relax muscles around the affected area. Among other things this can promote relaxation and healing in the muscle and promote blood flow.

What can TENS units treat?

TENS units are most effective at treating mild sprains, pulls, aches and pains, including low-grade chronic pain in muscles and can provide relief for several hours. It is often useful to combine TENS treatments with standard pain-reducing anti inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen. The best time to use TENS is in the mid to late evening, prior to sleep to make it easier to fall asleep if you are in pain.

Should I take any precautions?

TENS units should not be used on the front of the neck, on the chest if you have a pacemaker, through the chest (i.e. through pads placed on both your chest and back), close to open wounds or over the spinal column.

TENS units are particularly good at helping with chronic back pain
TENS units are particularly good at helping with chronic back pain | Source

What type of pain can TENS units not treat?

TENS treatment is not very effective for acute or substantial pain, which should always be referred to a doctor or other medical specialist.

How to use a TENS unit to deal with pain

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