5 Benefits Of TENS Unit Therapy

By Dr. Philip Cordova

December 20, 2023


What is a TENS unit and what are some benefits of TENS unit therapy? Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive pain relief therapy that uses low-voltage electrical currents for its effects.

Traditional approaches to chronic pain involve medication and surgery, often accompanied by undesirable side effects, creating a cycle of escalating discomfort and reliance on additional or stronger drugs.

The TENS unit is a helpful treatment revolutionizing the experience of chronic pain for countless individuals. TENS harnesses low-voltage electrical currents to safely and effectively diminish pain, facilitating an improved quality of life. While individual responses may vary, there are many potential benefits of TENS unit therapy.

tens unit therapy

Here Are 5 Benefits of TENS Unit Therapy

Non-Invasive Pain Relief

TENS units are commonly used to alleviate various types of pain, including chronic and acute pain. The electrical stimulation helps to block pain signals to the brain. For back pain, placing TENS unit electrodes surrounding the area of pain initiates electrical impulses along nerve fibers, providing immediate relief and inducing a tingling sensation. By stimulating nerves in the spinal cord, TENS closes a “gate” mechanism related to pain sensation. Moreover, TENS promotes nerve retraining, crucial for individuals with damaged nerves that struggle to transmit or receive signals. This retraining, facilitated by endorphin release, gradually improves movement and reduces pain.

TENS therapy is non-invasive, meaning it doesn’t involve surgery or medication. It’s a conservative approach to managing pain without the side effects associated with some medications. In stark contrast to the often harsh side effects of pain medications, TENS units offer relief without the complications of constipation, drowsiness, nausea, and other adverse reactions. Some individuals have even successfully discontinued their pain medications with the aid of TENS units.

Versatility

TENS units can be used to manage different types of pain, such as musculoskeletal pain, nerve-related pain, and pain from conditions like arthritis. TENS can be used on the spine, but is also just as helpful with extremity complaints. Patients frequently use TENS to help with shoulder pain or knee pain at home.

TENS units allow users to adjust the intensity of electrical stimulation, providing a customizable treatment that can be tailored to individual comfort levels. Some patients need just a small amount, while other patients use the device as strong as they can take it. The main goal is to alleviate pain, so each patient will have their own tolerance level.

TENS therapy may reduce the need for pain medications, allowing individuals to manage their pain with a non-pharmacological approach. Chronic pain often accompanies inflammation, creating a cycle of mutual reinforcement. TENS units have been shown in numerous studies to reduce deep-seated inflammation within muscle fibers.

Muscle Relaxation and Improved Circulation

TENS unit therapy may help relax tight or spasming muscles, contributing to reduced muscle tension and improved range of motion. TENS units, sometimes marketed as massagers, provide additional benefits for those without pain. By adjusting pulse patterns, they offer a deep muscle massage, catering to a broader audience seeking relaxation and well-being.

Electrical stimulation from TENS units may enhance blood circulation, promoting better oxygen and nutrient delivery to tissues and aiding in the removal of waste products.

Ease of Use

TENS units are portable and easy to use. Patients can use them at home under the guidance of healthcare professionals, providing a convenient option for pain management. Operating them at home is simple—just place the pad on the targeted muscle, adjust intensity, and let the machine take over. The ultimate goal is an improved quality of life, allowing individuals to reclaim activities that bring joy, leading to increased productivity and reduced economic losses associated with workplace absenteeism due to pain.

TENS therapy can be used as needed and can complement other pain management strategies. It provides a convenient option for those looking for additional pain relief.

Home Use

TENS units are available for home use, allowing individuals to incorporate the therapy into their daily routines for ongoing pain management. The financial burden of a lifetime supply of pain medications can be considerable. TENS units, once exclusive to clinics due to their cost, are now affordable for home use, offering an economical solution to chronic pain management.

It’s important to note that while many people find relief with TENS therapy, individual responses vary, and it may not be suitable for everyone. It’s recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new pain management regimen.

home tens unit therapy

How high should the intensity be when doing TENS Unit Therapy at home?

Determining the appropriate intensity for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) therapy at home depends on individual tolerance, the specific condition being treated, and personal comfort. Here are some general guidelines to help you set the intensity for TENS unit therapy:

Start Low: Begin with a low intensity setting and gradually increase it until you feel a noticeable, yet comfortable, tingling sensation. It should be strong enough to be felt but not so intense that it causes discomfort or pain.

Sensation, Not Pain: The goal is to achieve a strong but tolerable sensation, not to induce pain. If you experience pain or discomfort, reduce the intensity immediately.

Muscle Twitching: A slight muscle twitching or contraction is a common response to TENS therapy. However, the intensity should not be so high that it causes involuntary muscle movements or discomfort.

Comfort Level: Pay attention to your comfort level. TENS unit therapy should be comfortable and relaxing. If the sensation becomes unpleasant, lower the intensity.

Adjust for Different Areas: The ideal intensity may vary depending on the location of the electrodes on your body. Experiment with intensity levels when moving the electrodes to different areas.

Consult the User Manual: Always refer to the user manual provided with your TENS unit. It typically includes guidelines on how to use the device safely and effectively, including recommendations for intensity settings.

Consult with a Healthcare Professional: If you’re uncertain about the appropriate intensity or have any health concerns, consult with a healthcare professional, such as a physical therapist or your primary care physician. They can provide personalized guidance based on your specific condition.

Pulse Width and Frequency: In addition to intensity, pay attention to the pulse width and frequency settings on your TENS unit. These parameters also influence the effectiveness of the therapy. Experiment with these settings to find what works best for you.

Remember that individual responses to TENS therapy can vary, and what works for one person may not work the same way for another. It’s essential to listen to your body, start with conservative settings, and make adjustments based on your comfort and the effectiveness of the therapy. If you have any doubts or experience persistent discomfort, consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice.

tens unit therapy

How long should a TENS Unit Therapy session be? How often can I use it?

The duration of a TENS unit therapy session can vary based on individual needs, the specific condition being treated, and the recommendations provided by healthcare professionals. Here are some general guidelines to help you determine the appropriate length for a TENS unit therapy session:

Start with Short Sessions: If you are new to TENS therapy, start with shorter sessions to assess your body’s response and tolerance. Initial sessions of 10 to 15 minutes can be a good starting point.

Gradual Increase: Gradually increase the duration of the sessions based on your comfort level and the effectiveness of the therapy. You can extend sessions to 30 minutes or longer if you find it beneficial.

Consult Healthcare Professionals: Consult with your healthcare provider or a physical therapist for personalized recommendations. They can provide guidance based on your specific condition, overall health, and treatment goals.

Consider the Treatment Area: The recommended session length may also depend on the specific area being treated. For example, a TENS session for lower back pain may have a different duration than a session targeting a smaller area.

Frequency of Use: Pay attention to how often you are using the TENS unit. If you plan to use it multiple times a day, shorter sessions may be appropriate. If you are using it less frequently, longer sessions may be considered.

Trial and Observation: TENS therapy effectiveness can vary between individuals. Consider conducting a trial period where you experiment with different session lengths to observe how your body responds and whether there are improvements in pain relief.

Monitor for Adverse Reactions: During and after each session, monitor for any adverse reactions or side effects. If you experience increased discomfort or irritation, it may be an indication to adjust the session length or intensity.

Follow Device Instructions: Refer to the user manual provided with your TENS unit for any specific recommendations regarding session duration. Different devices may have unique guidelines.

Ultimately, the ideal duration of a TENS unit therapy session is a personalized decision based on your response to the treatment. For most patients, you can use a TENS unit as often as you want. Some people use it several times a day for up to 60 minutes each time. The only “side effect” of the longer sessions seems to be that you get used to the intensity and have to keep turning it up.

It’s essential to communicate with your healthcare provider and follow their guidance. If you experience any concerns or uncertainties about the appropriate duration, seek professional advice to ensure safe and effective use of the TENS unit for your specific needs.

Who shouldn’t use TENS Unit therapy?

You shouldn’t use a TENS unit if you’re pregnant or if you have an implantable device like a pacemaker or spine stimulator (anything that’s electrical inside of your body). Additionally, patients with cancer, epilepsy, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), heart disease, or bleeding disorders are not good candidates for this therapy.

Are there parts of the body that need to be avoided with TENS Unit therapy?

TENS unit therapy can be used on the back of the neck, but you can’t use it on the front or sides of the neck. The eyes, mouth, head, and genitals are also not good places to utilize your TENS unit therapy.

Additionally, TENS therapy should not be applied to infected tissues, damaged skin, areas of numbness, varicose veins, or any part of your body that recently received radiation therapy.

Always check with your healthcare provider before using TENS unit therapy, especially if you have existing health conditions. Better safe than sorry!

Is TENS the same as electrical stimulation in the office or PEMF therapy or HEIT therapy?

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), electrical stimulation, PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) therapy, and HEIT (High Energy Inductive Therapy) are all related to electrical or electromagnetic therapies, but they are distinct in terms of their mechanisms and applications.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)

  • Mechanism: TENS involves the use of a TENS unit to deliver low-voltage electrical currents through electrodes placed on the skin. It aims to modulate pain perception by stimulating nerves and blocking pain signals.
  • Application: TENS is commonly used for pain management, including chronic and acute pain conditions. It is often employed for musculoskeletal pain, nerve-related pain, and certain types of headaches.

Electrical Stimulation

  • Mechanism: Generic “electrical stimulation” refers to the application of electrical currents to tissues for therapeutic purposes. This can include a range of electrical stimulation modalities, such as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) or functional electrical stimulation (FES), which target muscles or nerves to improve function.
  • Application: Electrical stimulation may be used for various purposes, including muscle rehabilitation, reducing muscle atrophy, improving circulation, and aiding in the recovery of neurological conditions.

PEMF (Pulsed Electromagnetic Field) Therapy

  • Mechanism: PEMF therapy involves the application of electromagnetic fields to stimulate cells and tissues. It is thought to modulate cellular activity and promote healing.
  • Application: PEMF therapy is used for various purposes, including promoting bone healing, reducing inflammation, and supporting overall wellness. It has applications in orthopedics, pain management, and certain chronic conditions.

HEIT (High Energy Inductive Therapy)

  • Mechanism: HEIT therapy involves the use of high-intensity electromagnetic fields to induce powerful muscle contractions. This non-invasively stimulates muscle activity.
  • Application: HEIT therapy is often used for muscle strengthening and toning. It is commonly applied in aesthetic and cosmetic settings to improve muscle definition.

While these therapies share the commonality of utilizing electrical or electromagnetic elements, they differ in their mechanisms, target applications, and therapeutic goals. It’s important to note that the appropriateness of each therapy depends on the specific condition being treated, and consultation with your chiropractic professional is advisable for personalized recommendations as a part of your chiropractic care program.

Dr. Philip Cordova

About the author

Dr. Philip Cordova is a chiropractor in Houston, Texas. He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and decided to become a chiropractor after hurting his back as a teenager and getting help from chiropractic care. He is speaker on health & posture. Click Here To Read His Full Bio

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