TENS units have been making headlines recently as a drug-free way to relieve chronic pain. Advertised as safe and effective, these small handheld devices are becoming a popular choice with consumers. With all of the hype surrounding these devices we wondered if a TENS unit really was as safe and effective as the manufacturers claim, and this is what we found out.
What is TENS?
TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy uses a low voltage electrical current to help relieve minor chronic pain. A TENS unit is generally a small device that fits in your pocket or hand, and since it is battery powered you can easily move around during the therapy. Most units come with two or more electrodes that are connected to the device and attached to your skin. Where you place the electrodes will depend on where the pain is located, though it is generally on or near a pressure point. Small electric impulses are then generated and travel along the nerve fibers, and this is what helps lessen the pain.
Many people do report feeling less pain during and after using a TENS unit. Most health care professionals believe that this is due to the electricity generated by the attached electrodes that stimulate the nerve endings which causes the brain to block pain signals. Recent studies also indicate that using a TENS unit can stimulate the body’s natural production of endorphins, which can naturally lessen the pain.
Since a TENS unit is often used at home it is more convenient and less expensive than constant trips to a pain management specialist. The strength of the electric current can be adjusted according to the amount of pain, and you can even choose short bursts or a steady flow. This allows the TENS unit to be used for a variety of aches and pains.
What Can a TENS Unit Be Used For?
It should first be mentioned that the effectiveness of TENS has not been scientifically proven, but this hasn’t started thousands of suffers from chronic pain from using these devices. TENS units are most commonly used to relieve pain in the joints, muscles and bones caused by fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis. The devices also seem to be effective at relieving neck and lower back pain, along with tendinitis or bursitis that can make walking difficult. Some women have also used TENS to relieve pain during labor, but this should only be done under medical supervision. Some consumers have also found that using one of these devices can also relieve some of the chronic pain associated with certain cancers.
Is It Safe to Use TENS?
While most medical professionals generally consider TENS safe, you do want to ensure that it has been approved by the FDA. Some devices can deliver a current that is too strong to be applied directly to the skin, and other models can be poorly manufactured which can significantly increase your risk of burns and even painful shocks.
Along with ensuring that the device is approved by the FDA, you should also speak with your health care advisor to be sure that it is safe to use to treat your specific pain. Your medical provider can also walk you through the simple operating steps so you can get the best results without putting yourself at risk.
Even though these pain relieving devices are relatively new and unproven, many health care professionals and consumers believe that this might be the best way to safely treat some types of chronic pain without the use of prescription drugs.