Today, there are many options for people dealing with chronic pain, from traditional western medicine to physical therapy and chiropractic treatment to natural remedies such as CBD oil.
TENS therapy is a popular natural drug-free way help alleviate chronic pain and inflammation in a multitude of ways. However, before you go and buy a TENS unit of your own, it’s best to get all the necessary information first.
To help to address your chronic pain management, we have written an article on 7 Effective Ways TENS Therapy Can Help With Chronic Pain Management for men Over 50.
What is a TENS unit?
TENS stands for “transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.” This device uses a mild electrical current to stimulate nerve endings and alleviate pain. While there are certain variations, a TENS unit will generally be a small battery-powered portable electrical stimulation device that connects to pads called electrodes.
The user is meant to stick the pads to their skin in the area where they register pain. For many years, TENS therapy was only available by doctor visit. You can now purchase a portable TENS unit in stores or online for less than one hundred dollars.
Clinical trials are still being done to determine the exact mechanism of how TENS therapy works.
However, what we do know about it is that:
- Most people have responded very positively to the treatment
- There is little to no risk involved in using it
Before we start
TENS therapy is great for dealing with symptoms of chronic pain that you already have. However, the best thing you can do other than work on your current condition is to avoid further development by taking the appropriate preventative measures.
For example, when engaging in physically demanding activities such as moving to a new home, it’s important to pay attention to moving safety and learn to prevent injuries. Since moving involves a lot of lifting and carrying heavy items, you have to learn the proper techniques required to avoid making your situation even worse.
On the other hand, you also have to engage in a healthy amount of physical activity. If you have chronic pain, it’s important to rest when you need to. However, becoming a couch potato is not an option since it’ll only worsen your condition.
1. TENS therapy can help you by reducing inflammation
As we have already mentioned, the exact mechanisms of how TENS therapy can help with chronic pain are unclear. However, one of the most common findings in case studies regarding this treatment is that it helps fight inflammation in muscle fibers.
Researchers found that after they received the treatment, some patients’ blood showed fewer inflammatory markers than before they had received the treatment.
It should be noted that this is highly dependent on both the patient and the parameters of the therapy. For example, some patients have shown a better response to higher voltages, while others responded better to lower ones.
This is why it’s important to ask your physician or physical therapist about this method and have them supervise your treatment plan (at least in the beginning).
2. TENS Therapy can induce a release of endorphins
The first of the two most popular theories about how TENS therapy works is that it induces the release of endorphins into your bloodstream. Popularly known as “nature’s morphine,” endorphins are a type of “feel-good” neurotransmitter. They are also your body’s natural way of relieving pain.
Most commonly, they will be released in situations where you feel an extreme amount of pain or stress. However, with treatments that stimulate nerve endings, such as TENS, it’s possible to make your body produce them even when you’re not in such a situation. This way, they can help you deal with less intense, chronic pain.
3. A TENS Unit can block your pain receptor activity
The second popular idea of the mechanism of TENS therapy is that the electrical impulses that the device sends into your muscles directly impact the surrounding nerve endings.
This therapy is responsible for transmitting the feeling of pain. This way, their activity is blocked, and your perception of pain is altered for a short while. What you’re essentially doing is tricking your muscles into not feeling pain.
The biggest issue here is that different people respond to this treatment differently. Some patients report feeling relieved for a while after a therapy session. On the other hand, some only report relief during the session. But, since there’s virtually no risk involved and the reward may be great, there is no reason to shy away from it.
4. TENS therapy also feels like a massage
The endorphin response, which we have discussed above, is the same relaxation response that your body has to a traditional massage.
A lot of research has shown a direct correlation between stress and chronic pain symptoms.
So, a device that helps reduce both is a true godsend. Sitting down and letting the TENS unit do its job is going to help relax you and your muscles. Just like a professional massage would, but cheaper.
5. It reduces your susceptibility to cramps and muscle spasms
A person can become susceptible to cramps and muscle spasms for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes these appear during the recovery process from a surgical procedure. Other times there might not even be any specific reason (at least not one that can be discovered as easily).
The TENS machine stimulates your muscles by making them contract and relax (this usually gives you a “tingling” sensation). This process, combined with the appropriate workouts, can greatly reduce your susceptibility to these issues. In the long run, this will have a tremendous positive impact on your chronic pain.
6. A TENS Machine may have Fewer side effects than medicine therapy (if used properly)
Another way that TENS therapy can help with chronic pain is by not creating other problems in the process.
Traditional pain medications can be taxing on your body, especially if they are taken too often for too long.
Some people develop resistance to their pain medication after a while, and others might experience harsh side effects.
Alt-text: A large number of pills and tablets
Caption: Medicine therapy is much more expensive than a TENS unit, bringing more possible side effects.
The point of using a TENS unit for chronic pain, in this case, is not for you to completely be able to stop using your medication (although there have been cases like that). The point is to spread out your need for it so that it can help you more effectively while also reducing the risk of side effects.
7. Who shouldn’t use TENS therapy for chronic pain?
- You have a pacemaker
- You have an implanted defibrillator
- You have an infusion pump
Aside from that, you should consult your doctor before using a TENS unit if you have epilepsy or a history of heart problems.
To wrap up
As you can see, TENS therapy can help with chronic pain in a multitude of ways, physically and psychologically. Of course, dealing with the symptoms of your chronic pain through TENS therapy is only part of the battle.
If you want to improve your condition, you are going to have to incorporate healthier habits into your everyday life, protect yourself from further injury, and combine this with other forms of therapy that are meant to fix your condition long-term.
Jason Gibbins is a retired physical therapist who devoted his life to helping people overcome chronic pain. He loves writing about ways to do that in your daily routines.