A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit is a battery-operated device that some people use to treat pain. TENS units work by delivering small electrical impulses through electrodes from the adhesive pads. These electrical impulses flood the nervous system, reducing its ability to transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain. It also stimulates the body to produce natural pain relievers called endorphins.
Symptoms that may be treated with a TENS machine:
- Period Pain
- Labor Pain
- Postoperative Pain
- Joint Pain
- Neck and Back Pain
- Sports Injuries
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Painful Diabetic Neuropathy
- Spinal Cord Injury
A TENS unit has controls that allow people to administer an appropriate level of pain relief. People can achieve this by altering the following aspects of the electrical current:
Intensity: A dial allows the user to adjust the intensity of the electrical stimulation.
Frequency: The frequency refers to the number of electrical pulses per second. High-frequency (HF) pulses range from 80 to 120 cycles per second and may help manage acute pain. Low-frequency (LF) pulses range from 1 to 20 cycles per second and are suitable for the treatment of chronic pain.
Duration: The duration is the number of microseconds that the current enters the skin for during each pulse.
TENS is a noninvasive method for relieving pain. People who experience pain relief from TENS may be able to reduce their intake of pain medications, some of which can be addictive or cause adverse side effects.
TENS units are also convenient because they are small, portable, and relatively discrete. People can carry a TENS unit in their pocket or clip it onto a belt to ensure that they have immediate access to pain relief throughout the day.
When to avoid TENS
Although it is safe for most people, experts recommend that some groups of people avoid TENS treatment unless a doctor advises its use.
This recommendation applies to the following people:
- Pregnant women: Pregnant women should avoid using TENS in the abdominal and pelvic regions.
- People with epilepsy: Applying electrodes to the head or neck of people with epilepsy may induce seizures.
- People with heart problems.
- People with a pacemaker or another type of electrical or metal implant.
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