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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators (TENS)

Electricity is all around us. It powers the lights in our homes and buildings and it allows us to use appliances, among other things. But one way it’s being used in chiropractic treatment is to reduce acute and chronic pain by obstructing pain signals and helping the body release endorphins (the body’s own natural painkillers).

The technique is known as electrotherapy, and there are three different stimulation devices associated with it — one of them is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Each device produces its own frequency, effect and wavelength, but all use adhesive pads or electrodes — which are placed on the skin — to emit electrical stimulation to nerves and muscles.

What Is TENS and How Does It Work?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation uses a small, battery-powered machine — around the size of a pocket radio — to transmit low-voltage electrical current (up to 200 Hz) to provide pain relief. The electrodes are connected to the machine and span out so that they can release a stable flow of electrical current or a surge of electrical current when placed:

  • Over the region of pain
  • On the opposing side of the body
  • Near the area of pain
  • Over the nerve spreading pain

Your chiropractor will help you determine the proper setting, and, after receiving instruction on how to use the device and this therapy, you can use the device to treat yourself at home.

At its highest frequency stimulation, many users are able to tolerate treatment for hours; however, pain relief is short lived. When low frequency stimulation is implemented, the patient may be able to tolerate treatment for 30 minutes, and pain relief lasts longer.

When the current is dispensed, the expectation is that the patient will have less pain due to one of two theories:

  1. The electricity released from the electrodes arouses the nerves and transmits signals to the brain that help it block pain signals.
  2. Awakening the nerves may encourage the body to generate endorphins, which, in turn, may prevent the patient’s pain awareness.

What Is TENS Used For?

TENS can be used to treat different conditions, but is most often used to treat problems of the bones, joints and muscles, such as:

  • Low back or neck pain
  • Tendinitis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Labor pain
  • Pain associated with cancer

Is TENS Safe?

TENS is safe, but, as with any device, complications can arise if the product is misused. Therefore, it is important that the patient consult with their chiropractor before use and follow his / her instructions carefully.