Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, also referred to as tens, is a therapy that uses low-voltage electrical current to relieve pain.
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and is predominately used for nerve related acute and chronic pain. TENS machines work by sending stimulating pulses across the surface of the skin and along the nerve strands. The stimulating pulses help prevent pain signals from reaching the brain. TENS Units also help stimulate your body to produce higher levels of its own natural painkillers, called “Endorphins.”
The TENS Unit has several different settings to control the intensity of the stimulation by controlling the voltage and duration of each pulse. Electrodes are placed at specific sites on a user’s body, depending on the physical location of their pain. The current then travels through the electrodes and into the skin, stimulating specific nerve pathways to produce a tingling or massaging sensation that reduces the perception of pain.
There are two ways to explain how a TENS Unit successfully decreases or eliminates pain. One way is called The Gate Control Theory, which suggests that there’s a neural mechanism in the spinal cord that acts as a kind of gate, shutting down or opening up the flow of signals from the periphery to the brain. The other theory is called The Endorphin Release, which suggests that electrical impulses stimulate the production of endorphins in the body, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.
Tens units are recommended to and used by thousands of people all over the world for the relief of physical pain.
The TENS Unit is used to relieve pain for several different types of illnesses and conditions, most often to treat muscle, joint, or bone problems that occur with illnesses such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or for conditions like lower back pain, neck pain, tendinitis, or bursitis. People also use the TENS Unit to treat sudden (acute) pain, such as labor pain, and long-lasting (chronic) pain, such as cancer pain.
Experts generally consider the TENS Unit to be safe, although it could cause harm if misused. Have your physical therapist or doctor show you the proper way to use the machine and follow the instructions carefully.