One of the more popular drug free methods to control pain is the use of a TENS machine. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) are available without prescription and safe and easy to to use. There are a wide range of machines available for home use ranging from a simple machine for pain at around $20 to more than $300 for a dual channel machines that also includes muscle stimulation functionality.
How Does a TENS Machine Work?
Electrodes are placed on the skin (hence the name transcutaneous) and the nerves stimulated by a small electrical pulse. At a high pulse rate this has the effect of blocking the impulses that transmit pain messages to the brain. In addition a low pulse rate can be used which stimulates the production of the body’s own pain suppressing hormones, endorphins. The hand held TENS unit is used to control the intensity of the impulses, the pulse rate and the time the stimulation is applied. It is usually recommended that the unit is used for twenty minutes to thirty minutes during which time the pain is blocked by the electrical impulses. pain relief however persists after switching off the unit due to the production of endorphins.
What Type of Pain Does a TENS Machine Block?
The most effective use of these machines is for the relief of chronic pain from joints, muscles or nerves and is not recommended for pain from other conditions such as appendicitis, hepatitis etc. For those with chronic pain that require strong drugs for relief TENS can be very effective and is a good alternative to increasing the level of painkillers required.
Can You Use TENS During Labor?
TENS is becoming increasingly popular as a non drug method to help control labor pain. The electrodes are placed on the back and the intensity controlled by the woman in labor. As the level of pain during labor increases the intensity of the stimulation can be increased accordingly giving her complete control. During labor the machine is often used in two ways. During a contraction a high pulse rate is used to block the pain and between contractions a lower pulse rate is used to stimulate endorphin production which in turn helps to lower the pain of contractions. TENS can be used right from the beginning of labor, before the pain has increased in order to stimulate endorphin production. This is more effective than waiting until labor is more advanced. One caution we should mention here is that the use of TENS machines before the 37th week of pregnancy has not been shown to be safe for the developing foetus so should not be used.
How Safe is TENS?
Using a TENS machine is safe provided you follow the safety guidelines. You should not use this method if you have epilepsy or have a heart pacemaker as the electrical stimulation can disrupt it. If you have pain then you should always consult a physician to diagnose the cause before you use TENS. It should not be used for pain from underlying medical conditions such as appendicitis or for anyone who has heart disease unless recommended by your physician.
Never use the electrodes:
- In the mouth
- on the groin
- on broken skin or wounds
- on each temple
- close to the eyes or on the head
- on areas of skin that are numb or desensitised
The use of a TENS machine is a safe, effective, non drug method of relief from chronic pain. Always make sure your pain has been diagnosed by a qualified medical practitioner before you use TENS and follow the safety guidelines that are issued with your machine.