Do you want to find out about a therapeutic technique that could permanently banish your pills and all the other medication you take for the aches and pains you suffer from to the medical cabinet once and for all?
In this post you will find out why TENS could really be a genuine alternative to drug therapy. What you will learn in this article will allow you to navigate through the sea of incorrect information and falsehoods on the Internet about this type of treatment. You will then be able to decide and explain to others why it is useful and how to use it.
Shall we get going?
TENS can ease pain just as much as a painkiller, but with a whole host of extra benefits
I know many people, unfortunately members of my own family, who, during their life, have had various health problems and each time they have had to take lots of medication to deal with the pain.
This practice is, unfortunately, not at all “painless”!
When pain strikes most people have an instinctive reaction: take a tablet. Like most forms of medication, NSAIDs have the function of relieving the symptoms of pain. But nothing in life is free; I am not referring to the sale price of the tablets but to their contraindications. These include, just to name a few: diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and gastric burns. Ring any bells?
Furthermore, regular use of NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal ulcers with varying degree of bleeding.
To limit these side effects, we are forced to take the medicines on a full stomach as well as alongside other gastroprotective medication.Pills followed by more pills, chemicals followed by more chemicals.
Then let’s consider those rare cases of subjects with ulcers, intolerances to specific active substances, and those who take anticoagulants.What can they do in the event of intense and localised pain?We will see later.
Pain is like a flame that risks becoming a fire, TENS is the fire extinguisher
Let me explain. When pain strikes, the body is warning us that an inflammatory process of some kind is going on. Let’s compare it to a flame igniting. The most important thing in these cases is to prevent the newly lit flame from turning into a fire. When the fire is raging we all know it is too late, and we would need more than fire extinguisher to put it out.
Likewise, when, for example, following a trauma, we begin to feel pain, we must immediately think about tackling this acute inflammatory episode by reducing pain.
There are two ways to do this:
- Taking anti-inflammatory drugs (such as NSAIDs) that are very effective but have major side effects on the stomach and liver, without even mentioning those who are allergic and simply cannot take them
- Doing TENS therapy that effectively reduces pain as much as medication but has almost no side effects (we will see them later)
In both cases we will avoid entering a vicious circle in which, due to the pain, the painful part of the body is kept immobile limiting the blood circulation and preventing the algogenic substances (those that cause pain) to be disposed of. These substances are responsible for the activation of nociceptors, the receptors of stimuli found at the tips of the nerve endings. When nociceptors are stimulated, the signals responsible for pain are sent to the central nervous system. TENS promotes the disposal of these algogenic substances from the interstitial liquid, thereby preventing them from stimulating the nociceptors and consequently the pain.
Now that we have clear ideas about the main reasons why pain needs to be quickly alleviated, let’s look in a bit more detail, but in simple terms, what it is and how it is used.
What is it?
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a type of therapy performed with an electronic device that sends small pulses of current to the various areas to be treated. This type of pulse is used to relieve pain. Some professional devices are designed to be used in hospitals and physiotherapy centres but in recent years technology has enabled the creation of home-use devices that are very simple to use and equally effective.
TENS therapy is indicated to relieve the symptoms of hyperalgesia, a condition of hypersensitivity to pain that can be localised in all parts of the body.
What types are out there?
In clinical practice there are different types of TENS depending on the parameters used to generate the therapeutic pulses: the endorphinic or delayed effect, the conventional or rapid effect, maximum values, Burst, frequency modulation, width modulation, sequential, Spyke and… I could go on. I know you are a bit confused, keep reading and I will shed some light on the matter.
What does it do?
The first three of the TENS described above (Endorphinic, Conventional and Maximum Values) are largely the most used because they are attributable to specific therapeutic effects that have been demonstrated by dedicated clinical studies. The others, even if effective, are therapeutic techniques that deviate from the main purpose (the reduction of pain) which is why we will only focus on the first three to avoid further confusion.
1. Endorphinic (or Delayed) TENS has the purpose of raising the threshold of pain perception by increasing the amount of morphine-like substances in the body. It has an effect that manifests itself after a few hours after the end of the treatment and tends to last for a few hours. The frequency of the individual pulses is very low and the sensation that you feel during the therapy is pleasant and similar to a massage. The single sessions must last 30/40 minutes
2. Conventional TENS (or Rapid) occurs after 30/40 minutes from the start of treatment and its effect remains for a short time. It, therefore, requires frequent applications until the pain disappears. The frequency used is high (50-100 pulses per second) and produces a tingling sensation on the skin similar to pins and needles. Intensity regulation during therapy is subjective but must never exceed the threshold beyond which the muscles surrounding the treated area begin to contract (we stop before). It is important that each session lasts at least 30/40 minutes
3. Maximum values TENS uses the maximum frequency and width of the pulses available and must be performed at the maximum tolerated intensity (at a high level with relative contraction of the muscles surrounding the treated area). It is normally used to relieve acute pain after intense trauma such as sprains or bad bruises. A session lasts 3-5 minutes
4. The other TENSs mentioned above are a actually combination of the first three and do not add anything on a therapeutic level to those described
What are the side effects?
TENS is a therapy considered to be very safe. In very rare cases, the administration of an electric current may be too intense for the patient causing burns or skin irritation.
There are currently no reliable studies on the effect of this current on a foetus, therefore, pregnant women should not use it for therapeutic purposes in the lumbar and abdominal area as a precaution. People with heart problems, especially those who wear pacemakers, defibrillators, or infusion pumps should take extra care, and for this reason it is better to avoid this type of therapy to treat the thoracic and dorsal area.
How is the therapy administered?
TENS is performed by an electronic device that sends very low current pulses of energy into the body through electrodes. These are placed above the nerves of the areas to be treated in order to conduct current from the device to the nerve fibres.
Most treatments last for at least 30-40 minutes and can be done as needed without any particular concern about the number of sessions. The treatments can therefore be repeated several times a day.
The feeling that you experience during treatment is that of a pleasant tingling in the treated area and this perception indicates that you are performing the therapy correctly. It is necessary to vary the intensity of the current during the treatment in order to keep the tingling constant and avoid excessive contraction of the muscle.
How should the patient be prepared?
To use TENS, there are no particular precautions to be taken except to clean the skin well in the area where the electrodes are applied. These are then placed on the surface of the skin above the hyperactive nerves (responsible for the sensation of pain), which is why a specialist doctor knows how best to position them.
Is a person using it at home able to recognise the exact area to place the electrodes? No, but it is not a problem! Just follow a simple rule: identify the area of pain and circumscribe it with four electrodes positioned at the corners of a square. There is no doubt that the pulses will reach the affected nerves and, consequently, also other non-affected nerves without causing any issues with overdosing. The antalgic effect is still achieved with very few or no side effects.
What are the results?
TENS brings about instant and prolonged pain relief, usually for several hours. By controlling the nerves, it relieves pain right in the centre of the inflamed area.
After performing several therapy sessions, some patients report permanent pain relief.Whereas other need more time and long treatment periods to get relief. A lot depends on the actual patient’s condition and the intensity of the therapy.
And then it is easy to use, does not require special maintenance and can be used by the whole family whenever needed.
Did you know that TENS costs very little? You can have a professional medical device for about 100€
Discover our range of electrostimulators that use TENS in their programmes. I am sure you will find the right one for you, whether you are a patient or a health professional who wants to help your patients. Pain relief is truly within reach and affordable for everyone.
What do you think? Have I almost convinced you? The important thing is that this article has helped you learn a little more about this therapeutic technique and that it can help you consider an effective alternative to taking medication when you need pain relief.