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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Posted by Sean on 10/25/2015 to Electrotherapy


The “TENS” or the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation is one of the current electric devices that can stimulate nerves. It is used for therapeutic purposes. TENS refers to the nerve stimulation therapy that uses low voltage of electric current for pain relief.

TENS unit is usually connected in the skin and uses two or more electrodes. A typical battery-operated unit has the ability to modulate your pulse width, intensity, and frequency. This TENS applied in a high frequency has the intensity to produce motor contraction. Clinical studies prove that TENS is very effective and there has been no controversy to the conditions of the device so it is safe to be used for treating pain.

This is a kind of method used in ancient Rome during 63 A.D. in controlling pain. It said that the pain is relieved by the means of standing on electrical fish at the seashore. In the year of 16th up to 18th century, there are different electrostatic devices used for pains like headaches. One of the most proponents of this method is Benjamin Franklin. In year 19th century, a new device called electreat was used to cure cancers and control pain. Until the development of modern TENS or the TENS Units, it has been credited to C. Norman Shealy.

In 1974, the first modern TENS unit was patented in the United States. It used to test the tolerance of the chronic pain of most patients through electrical simulations before the true implantation of the electrodes in spinal cord dorsal column. Electrodes attached in the receiver received power from antenna to get relief from TENS.

There are number of companies starting to manufacture TENS units after the success of the Medtronic device. Dr. Charles Ray, Ed Schuck and Don Maurer founded it where they develop applications to the electrical stimulations device to treat Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and other disorders of your nervous system. Nowadays, lots of people becomes confused about TENS together with electrical muscle stimulation. These two devices are both using electrodes and lead wires. The EMS stimulates muscles while the TENS blocks the pain.

The TENS Units is used for medical purposes. It is now available in market and is used as a non-invasive nerve stimulation to reduce chronic pain. However, this TENS unit is said to be useful in diabetic neuropathy pain. According to some analysis treatment fidelity, it shows that the higher fidelity trials it have, the more positive outcome it can provide.

Some studies also shows that TENS suppress and modulate pain signals in the brain evoke cortical potentials of electric stimulation of peripheral A-beta sensor fibers and suppress A-delta fiber of nociceptive process.  The other two studies used FMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging that when TENS has high frequency it decrease pain that related in cortical activations in most of the patients. Tthe carpal tunnel syndrome shows that low frequency from TENS unit decrease modulated pain that is induced in activation of the brain and shoulder impingement pain.

TENS unit that is head-mounted called Cefaly, has been approved by United States Food and Drug Administration to prevent migraine. This device was found to be very effective when it comes to preventing attacks of migraine from a randomized trial. It considered as the very first TENS unit that has been approved by the FDA when pain prevention is talked about.

TENS unit was extensively used for non-odontogenic orofacial pain relief. Moreover, the TENS especially the low frequency ones are commonly employed to treatment and diagnosis of TMD or temporomandibular joint dysfunction.

In addition, there are lots of significant TENS units that targets the use of labor pain although some study showing that it has no effect in labor pain.

There are different anatomical locations wherein TENS electrodes are contraindicated and these are:

·         Directly over the spinal cord

·         Over tumour or malignancy

·         Wounds or broken skin areas

·         In the chest by means of posterior anterior electrode position

·         Internal except in the anal, vaginal and dental applications that needs specialized TENS units

·         In front of the neck due to the risk of acute hypotension or  laryngospasm

·         Transcerebrally

·         In the eyes due to high risk of intraocular pressure


TENS units are used across artificial cardiac pacemaker that causes failure and interference of implanted device. There are some serious accidents recorded wherein this principle is not observed. In year 2009 electrotherapy review where TENS unit is included says that it is an inappropriate treatment. However, reports on pacemakers are mixed and there are some programmable pacemakers that were inhibited by the TENS device.

By using the TENS, some experts says that it is safe. However, this unit can cause harm if it is misused. You should only allow your professional physical therapist in your conventional medication to show you the right way of using this device. TENS device requires you to follow the instructions. You can tell your doctor that you use alternative therapy and think about combining your conventional medical treatment and alternative therapy. It will become safer to continuously undergo the conventional treatment while you are also relying on your alternative therapy which is the TENS units.

There are also some precautions once you use the TENS units and these are:

·         The use of electrodes in the abdominal during labor can interfere with the foetal equipment monitoring so it is best to avoid it.

·         There is a need to avoid active epiphyseal regions especially in children.

·         Those patients that have epilepsy needs to be treated by a professional therapist and with the help of medical practitioner to be provided with the proper treatment about their upper thoracic and neck areas.

·         Do not use electrodes in the eyes.

·         If you suffer from abnormal skin sensation, position your electrode somewhere to ensure you that it will have an effective stimulation process.

Today, most of the TENS unit application use self adhesive and pre gelled electrodes to provide you several advantages such as reduced risk of cross infections, ease of application, decreased allergy rates and lesser overall cost. There are also digital TENS machines that offers the best features that w



Barbara Survillas
Date: 6/16/2020
lower back and top of thigh works wonders

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