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What is TENS?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is typically used in the treatment of nerve related pain conditions. This form of electrical stimulation was first used in ancient Rome, by electrical fish from to sea, in order to relieve pain. The machines now are considered safe, but should not be used on individuals with pacemakers or in the first few weeks of pregnancy. TENS machines work by applying electrical stimulation to a broad range of anatomy. Although it is primarily safe, there are several anatomical locations where the unit is contraindicated: over the eyes, through the chest, over a tumor, on broken skin, internally, or directly over the spinal cord.

How is TENS performed?

The TENS unit is typically a battery-operated device and introduces an electrical stimulation at high frequencies and with an intensity that will not trigger motor contractions. Depending on the individual and the condition they are in, the physician can adjust the pulse, frequency, and intensity of the unit. It is not completely understood how the unit modulates pain reception, but it is thought to block the perception of pain or increase the secretion of endorphins in the central nervous system. These factors will reduce pain perception and improve treatment and almost completely eliminate muscle spasms.

The electrodes are connected by a wire to a small unit that generates the electrical stimulation. To begin treatment, the electrodes are placed over the skin in the area where the patient is experiencing pain. The unit could produce a tingling sensation where it is located; However, there are typically no side effects affiliated with the unit.  The TENS unit can also be used at home to help with pain control, and in this case, your physician will give you instructions on how to place the electrodes, how to correctly input the electrical frequency and pulse strength, how to determine how long the treatment should be given, and how often the treatment should be used.

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