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Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

TENS is a non-invasive electrical stimulation technique used to relieve pain. Patients can use TENS themselves and adjust their own treatment levels as there is no risk of overdose and very few side effects. Physiotherapists are trained in the use of TENS and other modalities, so consulting your local physio can be useful for guidance on the purchase and use of a TENS machine.

The best pain-killing effects occur when the patient gets a strong but non-painful feeling of pins and needles under the electrodes. The pain-killing effect occurs quickly once the treatment starts, and tends to go off quickly once it is stopped. This allows patients to use the technique as they need in response to their pain or activity.

TENS is cheap compared to the cost of taking drugs over a long period and in the UK TENS devices can be directly purchased in shops or from manufacturers.

It is helpful if someone such as a physiotherapist helps with the set up of a TENS machine, and they can also act as a guide to problems and answer the inevitable questions which arise on using a new technique.

How to use a TENS machine

What Is TENS?

TENS involves passing electrical currents through the skin so that underlying nerves are stimulated and carry that stimulation back into the central nervous system.

A Standard TENS Machine

A standard TENS machine is a small battery-powered box which can clip onto a waistband or belt or kept in a pocket. It is light and easily portable. It generates pulses of electrical current of specific types and transmits them through the skin via wires and electrodes.

Users of a machine can adjust the types of electrical current delivered, in order to find the most effective and most comfortable form of stimulation for their problems:

  • The pulse amplitude - how strong the pulse is, in milli-amps.
  • The pulse frequency – how many pulses are delivered per second.
  • ·The pulse duration – how long each pulse lasts.
  • The pattern of the pulses - whether they arrive in bursts or rise gradually to a peak, for example.

Techniques of TENS Treatment

Different techniques are used to target particular nerve types to stimulate different methods of pain relief. The three main ways of using TENS are:

  • Conventional TENS – most commonly used and best to try first.
  • Acupuncture-like TENS.
  • Intense TENS.

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