TENS machines: natural pain relief?

Not everybody finds conventional pain relief useful, and they are always looking for new methods. The TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a newly-popular, non-medicinal pain relief that can help to relieve joint or muscle pain. They can be bought over the counter, but we recommend that you speak to a professional before using one.

What is it used for?

The battery operated machine uses sticky pads (electrodes) which are attached to the body and used as pain relief for conditions including:

  • Arthritis
  • Knee, neck, and back pain
  • Period pains
  • Sport injuries
  • Labour pains

The machine sends electrical currents to the body to help minimise pain signals from the brain and spine. By doing this, the electric impulses can help to reduce pain and relax the muscles and body. It can also help to raise endorphin levels, which are the body’s natural painkiller.

How to use it

The pads are applied to the skin, and when you turn the TENS machine on, electric currents are sent to that area of the body. At first, the units are used for about 15 minutes with the aim to work up to 20 minutes. When using the device, follow these steps to make sure you don’t harm yourself:

  • Keep the machine switched off before you put on the pads
  • When turning the machine on, expect a tingling feeling
  • Use the dials to slowly turn the settings up – if you start to feel uncomfortable, turn the machine down
  • Turn off the machine before removing the pads

There are two types of feelings the machine can produce:

  • Continuous TENS: a continuous tingling feeling
  • Burst TENS: a pulsing feeling (also known as acupuncture TENS)

When not to use a TENS machine

TENS machines are relatively safe with little to no side effects, but there are scenarios when you shouldn’t use them, including:

  • If you are allergic to the pads
  • If you have a pacemaker or another type of electrical or metal implant in your body
  • If you’re pregnant
  • If you suffer with epilepsy or other heart problems

Do not use the pads on areas of the body such as:

  • Over lesions, open wounds, or damaged skin
  • Over the neck, head, or spinal column
  • Over areas of infection

Does it work?

There are a lot of differing opinions as to whether the TENS machine is effective pain relief. Many pass it off as a placebo that only distracts from pain instead of providing substantial relief. But there is evidence to suggest that the TENS machine helps to reduce muscle inflammation, boost circulation, and help to get a better night’s sleep.

Sports injuries

TENS machines are used in the process of treating pain caused by sports injuries; this includes using the machine for muscle rehabilitation as well as post-training recovery. The device can be personalised to different types of injuries as the levels of intensity, and the duration can be changed to fit your needs. The pulses that are sent across the nerve strands help to produce endorphins making it a natural form of pain relief.

Whether a TENS machine is effective or not is different for each individual. Even as a minor pain treatment, you may want to try it out when helping you through sport injury recovery.

Participating in sport is fun until you are injured. At NB Physio we understand that you may feel frustrated and want to get back in the game. If you need help to recover, our physio treatments include manual therapy, acupuncture, taping, and many other effective treatments to get you on your feet again! Contact us today to find out more.