Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS as it is more popularly referred to, is a therapy that makes use of low-voltage electrical current to address and relieve pain. It is actually a treatment that is quite commonly suggested by doctors and health professionals, and it is also simple enough that it can be used at home after a patient has been given proper instructions. But what is TENS and how does it work? What are its side effects and are there any risks involved? If you are considering using TENS as part of your own pain management therapy, read on to have an overview of it.
Who can use TENS unit?
Many people utilize TENS to help them deal better with varying kinds of illnesses and medical conditions. So what are TENS units used for? Quite a lot, actually. It is often used to treat bone, muscle, and joint problems associated with health ailments like fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis. People suffering from common neck pain, bursitis, low back pain, and tendinitis also use it. TENS is generally considered safe enough that it can be used by almost anyone suffering from pain or injury. But of course, like any other treatment, caution must be exercised and you should seek the advice of your doctor prior to using it.
How does it work?
TENS treatment is done with a small, battery-operated machine. It is usually conveniently handy that it is just approximately the size of a pocket radio. The common usage is to simply connect two electrodes – these are the wires that conduct electrical current – from the machine directly to your skin. You place the electrodes on the injured or painful area, or at its corresponding pressure point, and it creates a circuit of electrical impulses that are then transmitted to your nerve fibers.
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So how does transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation work? When the current reaches the nerves, it stimulates the cells, reducing pain and preventing it from actually reaching the brain. There is another theory that TENS can help the body produce endorphins, which are known to be natural pain killers.
What are the side effects?
TENS unit side effects are actually considered to be very minimal. In fact, if someone is experiencing side effects, many doctors advise that the patient immediately stop and check the machine. It is important to note that you do not have the setting on too high or use the equipment too often. Here are the negative effects of the TENS therapy:
Skin irritation. One of the most common adverse effects of TENS is skin irritation. This happens in some incidents of overuse or incorrect usage. If you use your TENS machine more often than is prescribed by your doctor or you do not properly follow the instructions in using it (for example, you do not clean your skin prior to TENS or you do not apply gel prior), then you can develop skin irritation in the problem area.
Muscle twitching. Muscle twitching is the likely result when the setting of your TENS machine is too high. To prevent this, make sure that when you turn on the equipment it starts at zero. Gradually raise the setting until you feel a strong tingling sensation – nothing more. If your muscles actually twitch, then that is an indication that the machine’s setting is too high for you.
Pain and muscle soreness. If you continuously opt for a setting that is inappropriately high, your muscle twitching can evolve to something more serious – pain and muscle soreness. Remember that you should only feel a strong tingling sensation; anything more than that will cause your muscles to be sore and painful.
Does it include a long-term risk?
TENS is generally considered safe; after all, it is a non-evasive and drug-free option for pain treatment. But like all medical devices, TENS machine risks are things you need to remember. For example, patients with pacemakers should first consult their doctor prior to using the equipment, as the machine’s electrical impulses may affect some pacemakers. Some pregnant women also choose to have medical professionals administer TENS while in labor, to help them manage the pain. But while using TENS during labor is not actually a risk, its possible effects on unborn babies are not known, so it is strongly advised that you seek your physician’s advice first.
What are the precautions?
Because TENS is an electrotherapy pain relief machine, you should use it carefully. Ask your doctor how frequent you should use the device. Your usage will depend on your injury and medical condition – it is not something you should self-guess. Make sure that your TENS device has full batteries before turning it on; your skin is clean and dry; you apply gel to the electrodes; and you use a sticky pad to keep the electrodes in place.
In conclusion, your safest best is to have your doctor’s approval first before considering TENS. Let him show you the correct way to utilize the device and make sure to follow the procedures correctly.