TENS Unit for Pain

By Stacy Stone, ChronicPainConnection Expert

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What is a TENS Unit?

TENS means "transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation." TENS units are small devices that are battery controlled. Sometimes they can have attachments that go on your pants or pockets so that they are easy to bring with you where ever you go.

How Does TENS Control Pain?

Sticky patches (electrodes) are attached to the skin, and small electrical impulses are delivered to underlying nerve fibers. This works in two ways. The first is through endorphins. The body has its own mechanisms for suppressing pain. It releases natural chemicals called endorphins in the brain, which act as pain relieving substances. TENS units can activate this mechanism. Secondly, the electrical stimulation of the nerve fibers through the electrodes can actually block a pain signal from being carried all the way to the brain. If it is blocked, the pain is not felt.

Many physicians use TENS in their offices to help patients with pain management. If the therapy works for the patient, he or she may be a candidate to either rent or buy his or her own TENS unit. Patients who use TENS units may experience significant pain relief, while at the same time engaging in a therapy that is drug-free. Users of TENS units generally report few side effects, though some patients note that their skin is red where the sticky patches (electrodes) are placed. This can be lessened by using different electrodes or gels.

What conditions are helped by TENS?

Neck and back pain, arthritis, sciatica, headaches, muscular strains, TMJ disorder, and others.

Who should not use a TENS machine?

  • If you have a pace maker, it is essential to speak with your physician before using a TENS unit.
  • It is not known how TENS affects an unborn baby.
  • Regardless of your condition, it is important to speak with your physician before using a TENS.

How do I get a TENS?

  • Speak to your physician or physical therapist about procuring a TENS unit. You do need a prescription. Usually they are available to rent and buy, and sometimes your insurance plan will pay for them. The company that offers you the unit should be able to assist you with the financial aspects.
  • TENS units can cost anywhere from $200 to over $800. One way to see if you would benefit from having one of your own rather than using your physician's or physical therapist's, is to rent one for a month to make sure it is worth the expense.
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