Overview of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a wearable, affordable, medical device that applies electricity to the body, typically to relieve pain. TENS devices consist of a battery powered stimulator that connect to electrodes placed on the body. One side of the electrodes feels wet and touches the skin, while another end of the electrodes has a connector either directly to the TENS device or a cable from the TENS devices.
There are minimal side effects (typically things like tingling) and no concern for overdose so patients can self-apply Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). TENS is available over-the-counter (OTC) directly to patients. Patients may need to administer TENS throughout the day.
There are different types of TENS including standard TENS, acupuncture-like TENS and intense TENS. In general, conventional TENS is used in the first instance. The mechanism of TENS is to stimulate nerves and/or muscles under the electrodes. This then triggers a cascade of response leading to pain relief. The electrodes are usually placed over the area of the body with pain since that is where electrical current enters the body, activating the body, and leading to relief. However, there are some applications of TENS where the electrodes are placed away from the area with pain, so TENS “remote” from the pain regions.
Pain relief with conventional Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is usually right away and for many patients the pain relief is best when there is an associated tingling (called paraesthesia) beneath the electrodes. When the TENS is put over the area with pain, the tingling typically occurs over this area of pain.
Some doctors suggest that TENS may be used in addition to drug therapy for acute pain while others recommend TENS be used on its own. Indeed, many patients are attracted to Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) since it provides non-drug, non-addictive treatment.
Picking the right Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) device?What Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is right for you? What makes each TENS device different from others? Here are some simple factors to consider:
- Hand-held or wearable form factor: Traditional TENS devices are hand-held (or table-top) so they connect to the electrodes on your body through a long cable. Newer wearable TENS device attached directly to the body on top of the electrode, with an extra cable. With hand-held devices it can be easier to adjust settings while the device is running, and they may allow for more electrodes in distant parts across the body.
- Device stimulator output (waveform): TENS devices generate electrical pulses. The shape and repetition of these pulses is called the stimulation waveform. Different devices provide different options for waveforms. Some devices offer one waveform, some offer a limited set of specialized waveforms to choose from, and some provide a very side set of options. Frequency is how quickly the pulses come after one another, the faster the frequency, the less time between one pulse and the next. If the pulses turn on and off, the waveform may be called “burst”. Different types of TENS offer different frequencies or combinations of frequencies. Pulse duration is how long each pulse lasts. A new form of TENS offers extra-long pulses to enhance effects.
- Intensity control: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) works by delivering a train of electrical pulses. Those pulses each have in an intensity. All TENS devices offer the ability to adjust intensity to a “Goldilocks” level. Too little intensity, which may feel like nothing, may not work well. Too much intensity, which can produce pain, may not be tolerated. The “goldilocks” level of intensity is the right amount. But this amount may vary depending on who is using it and for what reason.
- Electrodes: The electrodes are where current from the TENS device enters the body. Electrodes some in different shapes and sizes. Electrodes should allow for comfortable stimulation. They should be stick (adhesive) enough to hold while you use TENS, but come off without pain when you take them off.
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.