TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a tool for treating pain. While it can’t cure the cause of your pain, it may reduce your pain. But it doesn’t work for everyone or for every type of pain. If you have severe pain, you will likely need to use multiple pain-relief strategies. Still, there are some good reasons to try TENS.
1. TENS is safe.
TENS is often safer than other pain treatments. You can’t overdose with TENS, and you’re not likely to have side effects. That’s not always the case with strong pain medications. TENS sends low-level electrical charges through your skin. The most common side effects are electrical burns and minor skin irritations. However, these are rare if you use the unit correctly. You may not be able to use TENS if you are pregnant, have epilepsy, or use a pacemaker.
2. TENS is painless.
The most common type of TENS is noninvasive—it doesn’t involve injections or surgical procedures. You just put special patches on your skin near your painful area and turn on the machine. You may feel a warm, tingling sensation but no pain when you use it right. A typical treatment for pain after an operation lasts 5 to 15 minutes. Another type of TENS resembles acupuncture. The electrical charges go through needles in your skin. There’s no pain with this type either.
There are a few ways TENS works to reduce pain. The electrical charges may keep pain signals from traveling through nerves to your spinal cord and brain. TENS may trigger natural painkillers in your brain, called neurotransmitters. It also may change the way your brain reacts to pain.
3. TENS is convenient.
Your doctor or a pain management therapist will likely start your treatment in the office. But because TENS is simple and safe to use, many people learn to use it at home. A TENS unit is not very expensive, and you can even buy one without a prescription online or at your local drugstore. But you need to know how to use it properly. You need to position the patches on your skin correctly. It’s also important to use enough power to cause warmth and tingling but not enough to cause pain.
4. TENS is optional.
You don’t need to make a long-term commitment to TENS. You can use it on a trial basis. Insurance companies and Medicare may pay for a trial of TENS for some types of pain. Check with your insurer about your specific coverage.
It’s also versatile. TENS might be the only treatment you need for mild or moderate pain. But you can also use it along with other treatments, such as medication, to ease more severe pain. Some studies show that using TENS may even reduce your need for pain medication. In any case, if it doesn’t work, you can just stop using it.
5. TENS works for many types of pain.
People have used TENS for both short-term and long-term pain. This includes pain from osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and tendinitis. They’ve used it for back and neck pain. Researchers have conducted many studies to find out how well TENS works for different kinds of pain. So far the research shows that TENS works best for:
Diabetic nerve pain
Long-term muscle or bone pain
Neck pain from whiplash
Osteoarthritis knee pain
Pain after surgery
Health experts are constantly learning more about how best to use TENS. And new types of TENS units are being developed. For example, the FDA recently approved a type of TENS you can wear on your head to reduce migraine attacks. If one type does not help, you may want to try another. Acupuncture-like TENS sometimes works for people who didn’t find relief with conventional TENS. And in recent years, new TENS units that are easier to use have come on the market.
ByChris Iliades, MD From CNN.COM