What is TENS?
TENS is the Abbreviation for
transcutaneous (through the skin) electrical nerve stimulation-a medical
method of reducing or eliminating pain without drugs.
TENS equipment consists of a battery
powered stimulator (about the size of a cigarette pack), lead wires, and
two or more electrodes which adhere to the skin. By adjusting the
control knobs on the stimulator, the patient is able to start or stop
the electrical impulses and can vary the length and intensity of each
The current, which
produces a mild, tingling sensation, travels from the stimulator through
the lead wires to the electrodes, which are placed over the nerves
leading to the painful area. The exact electrode placement may be
anywhere along this path, but often one pair of electrodes is located at
the pain site, while a second pair is placed near the spine, where the
nerve pathway connects to the spinal cord.
As the current passes
through the skin and "stimulates" the nerve pathway, the pain
signal traveling along the nerve is effectively blocked or altered
before reaching the brain. The reduction of pain may last several hours
after TENS treatment.
When was TENS discovered?
Although ancient writers
refer to the use of electrical eels in treating pain, TENS first
received serious consideration from the medical community in the
At that time, surgeons
began implanting electrodes in back-pain sufferers. The doctors soon
discovered that electrodes placed on the skin produced similar pain
relief. A few years later, the first commercial TENS unit was
TENS is now widely used
by healthcare professionals whose primary job is to treat pain patients,
such as physicians specializing in
sports medicine and
physical therapists treating chronic pain suffers.
How does TENS work?
The exact mechanism for
TENS is not known, not unlike aspirin. Some scientists believe that the
electrical impulses override the pain message traveling along the nerve
pathway to the brain. Others theorize that the current triggers the
brain to release its own pain relieving chemicals. Recent studies
indicate that both of these theories are probably involved, plus several
Where is TENS available?
TENS is available only by
a doctor's prescription through most pain control clinics, many hospital
physical therapy departments, and private-practice physicians.
How effective is TENS?
TENS has been used to
control chronic and acute pain in a wide variety of cases. These include
back and neck injuries, joint injuries, pulled muscles, arthritis,
migraine headaches, labor and delivery, and postoperative recovery.
The success of TENS
depends, in part, on how easily the nerve pathways carrying the painful
signals to the brain can be identified, and how accessible they are for
placing the electrodes. Patient attitude and clinical history also play
an important part. That is why patients must undergo a thorough
examination by a knowledgeable clinician before TENS treatment can
CPR Medical, specializing in: