A Drug-free Alternative to Pain Relief – Use a TENS Unit

By Dr. Chance Moore- Chiropractor

TENS, or transcutaneous electrical muscle stimulation, is a drug-free alternative for managing pain. For 30 years, patients found safe, comforting relief in TENS treatment. Plus, this FDA approved tool is reimbursable by most insurance providers.

A TENS unit looks like a small cell phone and has one or two sets of wire leads attached. The wire leads have a set of self-adhering pads attached to them. The TENS unit generates a gentle electrical current that travels through the lead wires to the pads to the area on the body being treated. The TENS unit works to decrease pain levels by electrically stimulating the local sensory fibers, overriding the brain’s ability to process the pain messages from that area. A good analogy is when you rub your knee when you hit it against something. The rubbing sensation somewhat overrides the pain sensation and provides mild pain relief.

To achieve the best results of TENS therapy, it is important to remember this technology merely activates the body’s own pain-fighting mechanisms. The electrodes should be placed directly over or near the painful area. The electrodes will deliver a pain- blocking current to the nerves in this area. Also, it is good to vary the placement of the electrodes each treatment to avoid skin irritation. Studies show it takes an average of 30 minutes for TENS treatment to begin to relieve pain. Some patients find hours of pain relief from short 30-to-60 minute sessions. others use their TENS units for several hours a day or all day, depending on the pain generated by daily activities. It is recommended TENS not be used while sleeping. This is simply because movement during sleep may cause electrodes to come off or be pressed into the flesh, causing skin irritation.

Unlike over-the-counter or prescription medications, TENS is virtually risk-free from injury, side effects or addiction. The low-volt electrical current delivered by the electrodes only penetrates the skin to the level of the nerve fibers. This poses no danger to most individuals. However, those with cardiac conditions and/or pacemakers, and pregnant women, should consult their doctors before using TENS. Use caution when you drive or operate heavy machinery. Most importantly, always use TENS according to your physician’s directions.