Electricity is nothing short of a magic (and it is not at all fake for a magic). It has changed the world and our lives for good. Electricity has been used, since its birth, in the field of human treatment. TENS therapyis one of those treatment methods which makes a brilliant use of electric current. It is by far the most popular electrotherapy in the field of physical therapy.

Shock treatments are extensively used for a number of brain and nerve related ailments. Zapping the brain for electrical stimulation is well known to the general public.

TENS Therapy works pretty much on the same principle of electrical stimulation of the brain or spinal cord and it is rapidly gaining recognition as an effective treatment for acute and chronic physical pain and discomfort.

Here’s all that you need to know about the TENS.

1. What is TENS? How does it work?

TENS is an acronym for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation which is a treatment for physical pain. The theory is to send an electric current through the nerves that are sending pain signals to the brain, which in turn interferes with the pain signals scrambling them and ultimately reducing pain. TENS may also help the body to produce more endorphin – a natural painkiller and change the way the brain responds to pain signals.

It uses a small, low-voltage battery powered machine to supply electrical current that travels along the nerve fibers in the affected area of the body, disrupting the pain signals traveling along the same nerves and hence, relieving pain.

The machines are called TENS units (generally of a size of a pocket radio) and usually have two electrode pads to attach to the skin. Consumer TENS units allow to configure the machine to different settings to adjust the intensity and flow of current, as required by the patient.

2. What is it used for?

TENS is used to treat pain and discomfort caused by several different types of illnesses and a wide range of conditions including arthritis, back pain, neck pain, muscle spasms, knee pain, period pain, etc. People also use it as a method to reduce acute pain caused by sport injuries and even to relieve pain during labor.

It is also commonly used by cancer patients as a means to reduce chronic pain.

3. How is it used?

TENS units are small and lightweight, designed for portability and use on the move. They can be clipped to the belt, put in a pocket or held in a hand and can be used while working.

To use it, the electrodes are attached to the skin in the area experiencing pain and the electric current is turned on with the right setting. It is important where the electrodes are put for the maximum benefit from TENS. The best way to position the electrodes is to attach them to the outer edges of the affected area. Make sure the machine is switched off before you place the electrodes on the skin.

The need of intensity and frequency may vary among individuals so make sure to turn up the pulse generator high enough to feel the tingling sensation but below the level where you feel pain. Adjusting the settings correctly for individual conditions is crucial to take the maximum benefit from TENS.

There are hundreds of different types and brands of TENS machines available in the market these days. Make sure you read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions to use the unit properly.

4. How safe is it? Does it have side effects?

Electrical Nerve Stimulation- that might sound worrying to some people, but rest assured; it is nothing like getting electrocuted involuntarily. Consumer TENS units just don’t have enough juice in them to be dangerous enough. The worst that could happen with TENS is mild shock from faulty devices or mishandling the TENS unit. TENS can be used as long as one wants and unlike prescription drugs, it does not have the danger of overdose.

Doctors generally consider it to be safer to relieve pain than the drugs which may have side effects. TENS comes with far lesser side effects than the drugs for pain relief. Skin burns and irritations are reported rarely in some people. For most people, TENS has no serious side effects or no side effects at all.

5. How effective is it?

The effectiveness of TENS isn’t backed by any scientific evidence, rather is based on individual experiences. It is not a guaranteed solution for pain relief and it may not help some individuals sometimes. Some researchers have concluded that it works no better than a placebo.

This seems rather odd for such a popular therapy, but many individuals have found TENS helpful for them despite the messy evidences.

6. Who cannot use it?

It is better not to opt for TENS if the cause of pain is unknown. Always seek medical advice first. TENS is not suggested to pregnant women, to those who have metal or electrical implants like pacemaker or defibrillator, to those who have skin conditions and to those with epilepsy and heart problems.

7.Are all TENS units alike?

There are various types and brands of TENS machine available in the market so choosing a TENS unit can get tricky. Not all of them are alike. The most common type of TENS unit comes with two electrode pads. There is another acupuncture-like TENS unit with tiny needles through which the electric current flows. Consult your doctor or physical therapist to choose the right kind of TENS unit for your specific conditions.

8. What cautions must one take when using a TENS unit?

It’s an ‘electrical machine’ which, by nature, shouts “caution”.

The electrode pads should not be placed on broken or damaged skin, for the electrical current may cause further damage to it. Do not place the electrode pads anywhere close to eyes. Also, the electrodes should not be placed over the front or side of the neck or in the mouth. The machine should be kept as far away as possible from water. Do not use it in the bath or shower or while driving or operating any kind of machinery. Always, safety first!

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