With more and more doctors reluctant to prescribe opiates for pain, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit (TENS) has become an attractive option. TENS treatments also continue the trend toward healthier alternatives than opiates, which have proven addictive.
At the Southeastern Spine Institute (SSI), your spine physician may recommend this pain-free alternative to pain medications when you undergo physical therapy at SSI. Your therapist can employ TENS units to treat a wide range of pain, including:
- Pain after back surgery
- Sports injuries
- Muscle strains
- An aching back
- Pain you’d normally treat with a back brace
- Chronic pain
How TENS Works
The TENS unit uses electrodes attached to your skin around the affected area with small, sticky, removable pads. For example, to use the TENS unit for low back pain, your physical therapist attaches the adhesive pads to the small of your back. Electrodes go into the pockets on the back of the pad. The electrodes are attached to long, coated wires that allow you to sit comfortably while receiving a treatment.
The therapist then controls the dial on the hand-held unit to select the intensity of the electrical stimulation. Dialing up results in greater stimulation, turning it down gives less stimulation. Your therapist aims to ensure you receive enough stimulation to interrupt the pain messages from that area of your body, but not enough to cause discomfort or further aggravate your pain.
What You Can Expect
During treatment, most people report a reduced sensation of pain. The electrical currents from the TENS unit interrupt the nerve signals to the brain that are communicating pain. Studies show that you also may find continued relief from your pain and discomfort, sometimes permanently, after a series of TENS treatments.
TENS is an analgesic treatment, meaning it does nothing to fight inflammation. Considered an alternative treatment, the electrical stimulation follows the same neural pathways as opiates and serotonin to the brain stem. Your SSI treatment provider charts your improvement to the position and power level after each visit.
Your treatment duration depends on your reaction to the procedure and the level of your injury or disease. One effective treatment plan calls for 45 minutes twice a day, continuing as long as pain from that part of your body continues. By alternating between higher and lower currencies, and positioning the adhesive pads in slightly different locations, you can expect to achieve satisfying results.
Who Can Benefit from TENS
TENS is an effective pain remedy when deployed with an overall treatment plan for almost any back pain. Its use is often combined with a regimen of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. It’s been found useful for post-surgical treatment. Physical therapists use it after a series of exercises to provide pain relief. People often find TENS to work at relieving stress and chronic pain.
Weekend athletes use the TENS unit when the pick-up game at the park becomes more strenuous than expected. People in jobs that require repeated heavy lifting get welcome relief from the treatment, as the electrical impulses interrupt the body’s pain signals — even dull, achy pain. TENS is not suitable if you’re in early pregnancy, have a pacemaker or have a history of epileptic seizures.