What is a TENS machine?
A TENS machine is a device that uses Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation (TENS) to help relieve and reduce pain. These medical devices are powered by batteries and the design features attached leads with sticky pads. These pads can be stuck to parts of your body, whether you are experiencing back or period pain, for example.
The user manual included with your device will advise you on where to put the pads, however bear in mind that you should not position the pads on:
- The front or sides of your neck
- Your mouth or eyes
- Your temples
- Your chest or upper back at the same time
- Numb areas
- Varicose veins
- Irritated or broken skin
How does a TENS unit work to relieve pain?
TENS use a mild electrical current to relieve pain. The attached pads stick directly onto your skin, emitting small electrical pulses to the part of your body you have stuck them to. You may feel a slight tingling sensation when these currents are emitted. These impulses help to reduce pain by sending signals to your spinal cord and brain through your nerves.
The signals overtake any other messages that are being sent to your brain at that time, including pain signals, this means that the tingling sensation from the TENS machine has priority above any pain messages. This allows your muscles to relax and endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, may be released as well. You might find that the sensation of the electrical impulse alleviates your pain or simply takes your mind of the pain for a while. Each machine includes adjustable settings so you can choose the right program for you and the pain you are experiencing.
What types of pain can a TENS machine be used for?
TENS machines can be used for a variety of conditions that cause muscular or joint pain as well as muscle spasms:
- Back pain
- Knee pain
- Neck pain
- Period pain
- Pelvic pain including endometriosis
- Sports injuries
Are there any side effects associated with TENS?
For the majority of users TENS is a safe pain treatment and they do not experience any side effects. However it is possible that you could be allergic to the pads. The pads can cause your skin to become red and irritated; there are pads available that have been specifically designed for those with sensitive skin. You should not place the pads on skin that is irritated, infected or broken as this can aggravate the skin further.
Who should not use a TENS machine?
For many people using a TENS machine as a pain relief treatment is perfectly safe, however there are some instances where you should consult with your healthcare practitioner before using a TENS device.
TENS is not suitable for:
- For use during pregnancy or labour, or if you suspect you may be pregnant
- For people with pacemakers or other implanted medical devices or for people with heart rhythm problems
- Without supervision for children under 16 years of age
- Cancer patients, people with diabetes or epilepsy should seek medical advice before using this product
- For people with an electrical or metal implant in your body
What type of TENS machine do I need?
Choosing the right TENS pain reliever will depend upon a number of factors, such as the type of pain you are experiencing, how active you are or how long you intend to use your machine.
If you experience pain in multiple places at once, or numerous points along your back the dual channel TENS machine is ideal, as it features four adhesive gel pads and 25 power intensities. For those who need a smaller device with less pad points the original TENS digital pain reliever can help ease aches and pains, as well as offering a lightweight design.
You might be more interested in a wireless machine complete with wireless pads and a remote, this will be easier to control if the pads are in hard to reach places.This design may also help you to forget that the TENS machine is attached to you, as you can simply place they pads on your skin, choose your intensity program and then go about your day without any wires getting in your way.
You might prefer a disposable TENS to relieve your pain, that can be used for a maximum on 7 days, making it ideal if you are going on holiday and don’t want to take your machine with you. This design also features touch control buttons and larger pads that can easily cover large areas of skin such as your hips or back.
Finding a TENS machine that works for you can help to ease your pain, and improve your quality of life, however your GP will be able to offer advice about whether this form of treatment is suitable for you and your condition.
Can I use a TENS machine if I am taking medication?
Yes, TENS devices are safe to use with medication, however if you have an existing heart problem, diabetes, cancer or epilepsy you should consult your doctor before using a TENS machine.
How long is it safe to use a TENS unit?
You can use the pain reliever for at least 30 minutes a day, if you need to use it for longer please seek medical advice. However it is advisable that you do not use the device while driving, operating machinery or when you bathe or shower.
Can you clean TENS unit pads?
Yes, you can easily clean the pads with a damp wash cloth. Try not to get the pads too wet as this could damage the machine, also try not to use tissue paper as this will leave debris on the pads.