TENS Therapy for Pain Relief: What You Should Know
“What a pain…”
Have you ever heard that before? Whether someone was talking to you or about something else in their life, this expression is often used when something uncomfortable, awkward, or inconvenient happens.
Circumstantial pains can be a challenge, but physical pain makes it difficult to enjoy life. In fact, between 18%-34% of adults in the United States deal with pain on a chronic level (2).
If you’re looking for a drug-free way to help manage your pain, there are several options --- one of those options is TENS therapy.
Today we’re sharing what you should know about TENS therapy, and if it’s right for you.
How it Works
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This non-invasive technique uses a small machine with attachable sticky pads to emit gentle electrical pulses under the skin, targeting local nerves (1).
Your nerves act as messengers and will send pain signals to your brain, indicating something is going on in that area of your body. By blocking those pain signals from being transmitted, the feelings of pain are alleviated.
These treatments are generally inexpensive and can be found in many different forms. Three of the most common types of TENS units (11) are:
- Conventional TENS: this type of unit emits low-intensity, high-frequency wavelengths. This unit is best for use as needed, as it produces strong but not painful pulses.
- Acupuncture TENS: this unit emits high-intensity but low-frequency wavelengths. It’s often used during acupuncture sessions that target pinpoint areas or are meant to stimulate a correlating body part. Because of its stronger capabilities, it’s only recommended to use for 10-15 minutes at a time.
- Intense TENS: as the name implies, this unit gives high-intensity and high-frequency wavelengths. It’s only used for minutes at a time and produces such strong wavelengths that it can be painful.
Does TENS Work for Pain Relief?
TENS units have been used to help reduce pain due to many different things, such as:
- Knee pain
- Sports injuries
- Back pain
- Period pain
- Sciatic nerve pain
While it won’t treat the root cause of your pain, it can help provide temporary relief. In order to get rid of pain at the root, it’s important to address underlying causes, such as pinched nerves, an inflammatory diet, injuries, or disease.
While using a TENS machine is generally well tolerated, there is one disadvantage. TENS therapy can create tingling, buzzing, or prickly feelings as the technique is underway, which some may find uncomfortable. Everyone has different tolerance levels, and if you’re more sensitive you may not like the feeling of the electrical impulses.
Other Drug-Fee Pain Relief Options
If you’re not sure TENS therapy is a good option for you, what other ways can you relieve pain without turning to prescription drugs?
- Hot + Cold Therapy: Alternating warm and cold compresses can make sore areas feel better. The heat helps by opening vessels to allow more blood and nutrients into the affected area, and cold helps by reducing swelling and inflammation (5). In short-term situations, this can be a great option.
- Movement: Staying active can help keep your joints from getting stiff, and gentle exercises like walking or water aerobics can help reduce pain associated with daily motion. Physical therapy can also help, as certain movements and exercises are designed to restore the functionality of joints and relieve associated pain (6).
- Copper or Magnetics: People have used copper in jewelry for centuries. In 1950 German physician Werner Hangarter published several articles sharing his observations about how copper seemed to help his patient’s pain. While studies question its clinical effectiveness, personal reports claim it could offer anecdotal relief (7,8).
- Massage: the art of applying gentle but firm pressure to certain parts of the body is both relaxing and beneficial. Studies show that therapeutic massage can not only reduce pain, but can also lower anxiety, improve mood, and promote a better sense of well-being (10).
- Acupuncture: Ancient Asia discovered that placing small needles at various locations can relieve pain and encourage balance in the body. Today, studies confirm this treatment can help quickly alleviate neck, back, or osteoarthritis pain (4).
- Herbs: Antioxidant herbs like turmeric, Boswellia, and ginger have been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. These powerful herbs have proven effects in being able to reduce pain and inflammation throughout the body (3).
Back to You
Pain can range from annoying to debilitating, and it’s something we all experience from time to time. If you or someone you know has been dealing with chronic pain, you’re likely looking for anything you can to help alleviate the discomfort.
TENS therapy is a convenient, safe technique that emits small electrical pulses through pads placed on your skin. Whether it’s neck, back, or knee pain, many people have noticed positive results with minimal side effects.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you’d like to try a more drug-free approach. In addition to some of the mentioned therapies, adopting an anti-inflammatory diet can help prevent painful conditions from getting worse.
Learn more about how nutrition is important to enjoying great health here (12).
✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author