Does the TENS Unit Work?

Does TENS Unit Work?
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Are you a chronic pain sufferer?  Are you looking for a natural way to relieve your pain?  Have you thought about a TENS unit?  Wondering about it?  Especially; does the TENS unit work?

I will attempt to answer these questions by providing information about what it is, how it works, if it helps with pain, and where you can purchase one.  

What Is TENS?

The acronym stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.  What a mouth full! So you can see why it’s called TENS. Transcutaneous means across the depth of the skin; trans = across, cutaneous = relating to the skin.  Stimulation refers to making more active.  

So the unit works across the depth of the skin with an electrical current to activate the nerves.

How Does It Work?

But why would you want to activate nerves?  Especially if you are in pain.  Isn’t pain a nerve signal telling your brain there is a problem?  

Well, yes pain is transmitted by nerves.  But in the case of the TENS the unit activates surrounding nerves to block the pain message from reaching the brain.  It’s like a party of nerves yelling so the brain can’t hear the pain message!

Then in addition, these pulses can increase the body’s production of endorphins, which are the natural chemicals that reduce pain.  So, now you have the body releasing pain killing chemicals, again with no side effects.  

There is also research that states the stimulation can reduce inflammation.  Inflamed tissue is painful.  The inflammation affects that part of the body so it doesn’t work well.  

TENS had also been used to treat fibromyalgia and hyperalgesia (enhanced sensitivity to pain).  

Finally, blood flow is increased with the stimulation, and increased blood flow means the muscles contract and relax.  This makes for healthy tissue.  

Here’s a link to a scientific article from the National Institutes of Health.  It discusses the evidence for the use of TENS to control pain.  

Does TENS Unit Work?
A photo of my TENS unit showing control and electrodes.

What’s in the Box

Most units have two parts.  The first is the control unit, where you can control intensity (of the current), the time of the session, and the type of current; i.e. pulse, constant, or modulation.  This is where the electrode wires plug in.  So the second parts are the electrode wires with the pads at the end.  

Some units are battery operated.  Others can be charged with a USB or wall charger.  Some are digital.  The units come with the pads that attach to the skin.  These pads are reusable for several applications, then they lose their adhesiveness.  My unit came with an extra pack.  You can order more as needed.  

Does It Help With Pain?

Short answer, YES!

As a user of a TENS unit, I can attest that it provides temporary pain relief.  It is not a long-lasting solution by any means.  But even temporary relief is worth having, don’t you think?  And I like using it because it has no side effects.  It truly is a natural pain remedy.  For other suggestions for natural pain relief, see this article I wrote; What is the Best Natural Pain Reliever?

You can attach it for up to an hour.  Then you have to take an hour break before you use it again.  This is the recommendation by my Physical Therapist.  I read other articles that say it is safe to use all day.  My PT recommended using different settings (pulse, constant, modulation) each time.

I would recommend you contact your healthcare professional for further usage recommendations.  And follow the directions in the unit package.  

One possible side effect could be skin irritation from the electrode pads.  Don’t continue using them if this is a result.

Does TENS Unit Work?
The 2019 Ultimate Guide to TENS Units – TENS 7000

Pros?

  • No side effects
  • No drugs
  • Can reuse the electrode pads
  • Can use off and on throughout the day

Cons?

  • Uncomfortable electrical shock if you forget to turn it off while you handle the electrode pads (I know, that’s what I get for not remembering!)
  • A challenge for me to attach electrode pads to my buttock; you may need assistance if your pain is in a hard to reach spot

Who Should Not Use a TENS

There are a few people who should not use this device.  Don’t use it if:

  • You have a pacemaker or other electrical implant or device
  • You are pregnant or may be pregnant
  • You have epilepsy or heart problems

Where Can You Get One? 

NueMedics TENS Unit

First of all, contact your healthcare provider.  I am part of a Pain Management program through my health plan.  This is how I found out about the TENS.  I spoke with my Physical Therapist to discuss if this device was something that might help me.  I highly recommend you talk with a professional first, this might not be the right device for you.  (Even if there aren’t any side effects.)

My insurance covered most of the expense for this unit.  I hope that is the case for you as well.  Otherwise, I recommend you check out various online marketers.  Or see this link to eBay for one of their best sellers.  NueMedics Portable TENS Unit.  If you purchase this one, I receive a referral fee. 

Also Remember These Guidelines

These instructions should be included in your unit directions, but just in case, please take note of the following.  As further advice there are places on your body where you should never put the electrodes.  They are:

  • The front or sides of your neck
  • Your mouth or eyes
  • Irritated or infected or broken skin
  • Numb areas
  • Your temples
  • Your chest and upper back at the same time
  • Varicose veins

Disclaimer

I am not a healthcare professional.  I am merely a fellow pain sufferer.  My Physical Therapist prescribed this to me to relieve my buttock pain.  Now that I have had experience with it, I felt I could recommend it to others who are pain sufferers.

I would love to hear from you about your experience with the TENS.  Or if you have questions or comments, I want to hear those too.  

Here’s a testimonial from a user of the Omron TENS unit.

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