A TENS machine is an effective source of pain relief for sufferers of chronic and low-level pain. The application of low-level electrical pulses effectively blocks pain signals from reaching the brain, thus allowing sufferers extended periods free from the debilitating effects that chronic pain can cause.
The Benefits of TENS
TENS units are used in many different situations, ranging from mild back pain and muscle soreness to inflammatory conditions such as arthritis or nerve pain caused by diabetes or even cancer. TENS also offers pain relief after accidents and injuries as well as being used to treat post-operative pain. TENS units are also used during the early stages of labour to tackle the discomfort caused by contractions.
Used correctly, a TENS unit can provide important benefits for sufferers of pain. In addition to pain relief, users of TENS units report improvements to their blood circulation and faster healing, improved sleep patterns and increased ability to move and function in their every day lives. Studies have shown that patients require less pain relieving drugs when combining their treatment with the use of a TENS machine.
When Can TENS Side Effects Occur?
It is important to note that TENS machine side effects can occur if they are misused or used incorrectly. Most TENS side effects are experienced immediately and can be easily cancelled by switching off or making a simple adjustment to the TENS machine while it is in use. While the term ‘misuse’ may be a little strong, there are a few key considerations when using your TENS machine which, if not followed correctly can cause unpleasant side effects. These are all easily avoided by following the instructions that come with your machine, so always carefully check for the correct TENS settings for pain control.
It is always recommended you speak to a doctor or other health professional before using a TENS machine, as some medical conditions contraindicate the use of a TENS machine. Your doctor can also help you apply the pads correctly to avoid any side effects of TENS units.
Some medical conditions where TENS machines are not recommended include any conditions where you experience a loss in skin sensation, as you are in danger of turning the unit up too high. Similarly, sufferers of Alzheimers or dementia should not use TENS as they may not be able to understand or communicate the effects that the electrical impulses are having on their body, and wearers of pacemakers should not use a TENS machine as the signals could interfere with its function. If you are at all unsure, ask your doctor before using TENS.
Most TENS side effects are experienced immediately and can be easily cancelled by switching off or making a simple adjustment to the TENS machine while it is in use.
Side Effects and Dangers of Incorrect Use
Using a TENS machine is relatively easy: simply apply the electrodes around the area causing pain, ensuring each TENS pad has a strong adhesion to your skin. The use of a thin layer of conductive gel can improve contact with the skin. Then slowly turn up the unit until you feel a tingling sensation under your skin.
Some very obvious things to avoid when using a TENS machine include submerging or exposing yourself to water – electricity and water don’t mix! – and falling asleep while the machine is in use. Again, it is important to monitor the effects of the TENS machine on the body, which you are unable to do when asleep. If the electrical currents are too strong, they can cause skin irritations or even burns.
Overexposure to electrical pulses can leave your muscles feeling tender, so it is recommended you do not use the TENS machine for more than a few hours at a time. 24-hour pain relief can be a tempting prospect, but the long term effects may be muscle soreness in addition to your condition. Use the TENS machine for several hours between regular breaks and stop if you start to feel sore.
A gentle tingling sensation is enough to relieve pain, although the effects may not be felt straight away. Do not be tempted to increase the signals to speed up the effect – you will quickly know if the TENS unit is turned up too high as stronger currents result in muscle pain and twitching. This is not a sign that the machine is working, but that it’s working too much! Turn it down if you experience this.
Prolonged use can also cause skin irritation, which you can avoid by thoroughly cleaning your skin before use and by changing or moving the pads.
TENS is Safe to Use
Although using a TENS unit has some side effects, these are almost always caused by incorrect use. A newly purchased TENS unit should always arrive with a full set of instructions that should help you avoid any problems and your doctor can provide you with further advice and information if you’re feeling unsure.