Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, machines are an option for pain relief that has gained in the popularity in the UK, although there is some question as to their true effectiveness. Most often used by women in labour, the practice is growing as a treatment for chronic back or neck pain as an alternative to pain killing medication. Recent research trials have ended with conflicting results, with some concluding that they can help some people and others concluding that they do not help at all. The fact that this treatment is growing in popularity with those that suffer from neck and back pain signify that it does indeed give some pain relief.
How do TENS Machines Work?
TENS machines work by delivering small electrical impulses to the body through electrodes that are placed on the skin – transcutaneous means ‘through the skin.’ The device itself is usually about the size of a personal stereo, although smaller versions are now available, making the device portable and in many cases the patient can continue his normal activities while receiving treatment. It is thought that the TENS machines work by affecting the way pain signals are sent to the brain via nerves and the spinal cord. By blocking these pain signals, less pain is felt.
There are two different methods in using a TENS machine. When the machine is set at a higher pulse rate, it stimulates nerve fibres free from pain to send signals to the brain to block the signals from those nerves that are sending pain signals. When it is set at a lower pulse rate, it stimulates the body to produce endorphins, which are natural pain relieving hormones that act like morphine to stop the pain.
Using a TENS Machine at Home
In some cases, your doctor may wish to administer this treatment in his office or at a pain clinic, but there are now TENS machines that are available for home use. Nevertheless, they should still be used exclusively under a doctor’s or other professional’s orders. Be sure to follow your health professional’s advice for the recommended length and frequency of treatment and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Here are some more helpful hints to keep in mind when using a TENS machine.
Before attaching the electrodes to the skin, always make sure the machine is turned off. You can test that the machine is in good working order by taking the electrodes in your hands and turning the machine on at a low level. You should be able to feel a tingling sensation. The electrodes should never be applied to an area that has broken or irritated skin. The electrodes can either be self-adhesive or rubber, in which case they should be completely covered in a conductive gel before applying to the skin. The pads should be placed on either side of the painful area.
After using the machine for the recommended period of time, remove the pads – but never by the wires – and clean the skin with regular water and soap. If the area where the treatment was done is irritated, a new area should be used for the next treatment.