The TENS unit is a device that has been used for years in the clinic to treat pain. It is a device that provides transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation through patches applied to the skin around areas of pain. We get a lot of questions about using a TENS unit and if it can be a helpful form of treatment. Keep reading to learn all the details about TENS unit therapy.
What are some of the ways that transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is used in the clinic?
TENS can be a great tool to use you have high levels of pain and you are not tolerating hands-on therapy and exercise due to pain. Some conditions that TENS can be helpful for are post-operatively where you are still in the acute healing phase or with a muscle strain that is preventing normal movement due to pain and muscle spasms.
How well does TENS work for back or neck pain? Does it depend upon the cause of the pain?
TENS is fairly effective in treating back and neck pain. TENS can feel really good while the unit is on the muscle but is not so effective for long term relief. Once the TENS patches are removed from the skin, you may feel a bit better but the effect only lasts for a couple of hours at the most. This is because TENS stimulates the nerves to block pain signals and once that stimulation is removed, the pain returns back to normal. This is true for all types and causes of pain.
Do you only use TENS in the clinic, or do you also recommend using a TENS unit at home?
When I do use TENS in the clinic, it is typically for a short period of time just to decrease pain acutely to get into other interventions that are better at creating long term relief, such as hands-on therapy and exercise. It is important that you do not fall into the trap of relying on an external source for pain relief. There are so many active things you can do for relief, instead of relying on TENS unit, to be in control of your pain. If you are dealing with chronic pain, I may recommend a TENS unit at home for more emergency situations where the pain is preventing you from functioning during the day. You can even wear the unit while doing other activities.
How long do people need to use a TENS unit before they start to see some pain relief?
Pain relief can be felt within one use of a TENS unit as the effect happens while the unit is on. There is no added benefit from using the TENS unit multiple times or more frequently. In the clinic, we typically will use it for 10-15 minutes for pain relief.
If you want to try the TENS unit for pain relief,
to get started.