When is TENS Therapy Appropriate for Me? Back pain is an excruciating affliction that can completely take someone out of their day-to-day life. One of the worst parts about back pain is it can be triggered by so many different things. Lifting weights can often times incite pain in a chronic sufferer just as readily as getting out of a car seat wrong. Worse still, there are just as many ways to “deal” with the pain. These can range from simple aspirin to yoga to chiropractor visits and even inversion tables. One method that many people have found relief from is called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). If you suffer from chronic back pain, continue reading to find out if TENS is right for you.
What is TENS?
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is a pain relief solution developed for those who suffer from back aches. It aims to alleviate the pain by administering electricity to or near to the spot where the pain is coming from. TENS is nonintrusive, however, so the electricity is administered via electrodes which are placed on top of the skin.
It is believed that back pain is caused by small nerve fibers. By moving, they send messages up the spinal cord to the brain that make it express the sensation of pain. The electricity, however, can stimulate nearby fibers which are much larger. By doing this, the brain is distracted from the sensations of pain being communicated.
The theory itself is called the gate-control theory. That’s because part of the theory also postulated that there may be a gate-like mechanism in the spine. When properly stimulated, this gate can be shut. One of the benefits of that action would be that the pain messages being sent from the small fibers in the back would be unable to pass. By applying electrical impulses, this hypothetical gate might be forced to shut, keeping the patient’s brain unaware of any pain.
Furthermore, the actual frequency with which the electricity is delivered can have different effects on the patient. High frequency currents are reported to be best for immediate back pain. If you see a chiropractor, there’s a good chance they may administer high-frequency currents in order to relax your back and relieve your pain before an adjustment. Low frequency electrical currents, on the other hand, are believed to provide relief for much longer. However, to accomplish this, the electrodes must be placed on the back for much longer.
When Should I Use TENS Therapy?
Anyone who suffers from back pain can be a candidate for TENS unit therapy. So the simple answer is that you can begin using it whenever you start suffering from chronic back pain. It can, however, be used for other forms of pain which we will address a bit later.
When Should I Not Use TENS Therapy?
It’s generally not a good idea to begin using a TENS unit if you haven’t first seen a specialist, like a chiropractor. Back pain can be a very sensitive thing and often it’s difficult to pinpoint its root cause. As such, any attempt at alleviating it can be detrimental if it’s not carefully considered first.
Who Should Not Use TENS Therapy?
There are also some people should simply never use a TENS unit. Those with a pacemaker, for example, should not use the machines. The current could interfere with the mechanics of the pacemaker. In fact, anyone with a history of heart problems should consult their physician before attempting to benefit from a TENS unit.
Pregnant women should also steer clear of TENS units. There’s not enough information at this time to know how the current from a TENS unit could potentially affect the baby.
Anyone with circulatory problems should keep the electrodes from a TENS unit well away from their head or neck. It’s possible that the current could cause problems with one’s blood or veins.
Lastly, for obvious reasons, anyone suffering from epilepsy or who has a history of seizures should not use a TENS machine for pain relief.
Other Uses for TENS Therapy
While TENS units are best known for their benefits for people suffering from back pain, they can be utilized for other forms of relief as well. Many people have reported positive effects from using a TENS machine to fight the pain associated with sciatica, which itself is often a symptom of back problems.
More and more, women are turning to TENS machines in order to ease the pain that comes with child labor.
Others who have neck pain, suffer from migraines or other sever headaches, muscle strains or temporomandibular joint dysfunction can all benefit from TENS unit therapy as well. Essentially, anyone who suffers from physical pain related to the nerves should be able to receive relief from using a TENS unit.
How Often Can I Use TENS Therapy?
If you have decided that TENS therapy is now right for you, you may start with it immediately if you choose (though, again, it’s recommended you speak with a physician first). As TENS therapy is a non-addictive form of pain relief, you can technically use it as often as you like.
Whenever you begin feeling your pain, it makes sense to start administering TENS therapy. However, it can also be a good idea to begin applying TENS therapy as a method for preempting the pain. For example, if you know your back begins acting up at the end of a long day at the office, you can begin applying the therapy as soon as you get home.
One issue with using your TENS unit often is that your body may form habituation. Simply put, this means your body will build a tolerance for the pain relieving benefits of the therapy, meaning you experience less relief. A way around this is to either only use your TENS when completely necessary or to alter the frequency and/or power output every now and then.
There is no time when TENS therapy would be inappropriate if you suffer from any kind of chronic pain. While it is best to consult your physician first, TENS therapy is nonintrusive and non-habit forming, meaning you can experience pain relief without risking adverse effects.