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TENS Machines are used by thousands of people all over the globe for a variety of different reasons. If you’re wondering how this innovative device could help you or a loved one, you’ve come to the right place.
This blog is designed to provide a complete guide to TENS Machines, delving into what they do, who can use them and the benefits they can offer.
Keep reading to discover what a TENS machine is, how TENS machines work, scientifically proven results.
Table of Contents
What Is a TENS Machine?
A TENS Machine is an intelligent yet simple device used alongside or as an alternative to pharmaceutical forms of pain relief. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is the long-form title, denoting how these machines work outside the body by targeting the skin. Put simply, the portable, battery-operated device can be worn on the body by users hoping to minimise or reduce their pain.
TENS vs. EMS
TENS and EMS are forms of e-stim physical therapy devices developed to stimulate muscle contractions or relieve pain. While they both treat the body using electric currents, the purposes they serve are different.
EMS stands for Electronic Muscle Stimulation, a smart physical therapy and fitness technique used primarily to encourage muscle contractions.
Unlike TENS, the electrodes from an EMS machine are applied to critical muscle groups such as the quadriceps after knee surgery. The electrical currents are much stronger and shouldn’t be used to treat pain – instead, they’re designed to tone the body outside of exercise or speed up rehabilitation. It has also been used to mobilise patients in critical care who cannot exercise.
How Do TENS Machines Work?
Before we look at the benefits of using a TENS machine or how to use one, let’s take a look at how TENS machines work by breaking down their complex-sounding name.
Transcutaneous: Through the skin and outside of the body.
Electrical: Delivers tiny electrical impulses through electrodes temporarily attached to the skin. They’re designed to change the way the body communicates with the brain.
Nerve: Nerves are responsible for the pain we feel, so a TENS machine is designed to stop the pain signals produced by nerves from reaching the brain.
Stimulation: By blocking those pain signals, pain can be reduced.
Essentially, TENS machines work by delivering electrical currents through the skin via electrodes placed on various parts of the body. These electrical currents block pain signals from the nerves to the brain, reducing pain felt by the user.
Do TENS Machines Work?
Now to answer one of the most frequently asked questions: do TENS machines actually work? While the research into TENS machines has been limited since its invention in 1971, plenty of people have named them responsible for reducing their pain.
- In 1996, a study by Reeve et al. was carried out and found that 12 out of 20 people in their review had positive TENS outcomes.
- Several other studies have found that TENS can reduce pain, primarily when used alongside other analgesic methods.
- In 2014, it was discovered that TENS machines could be used to treat both acute and chronic pain.
How to Use a TENS Machine
If you’re new to TENS machines or can’t quite figure out how to fit your device, here’s some brief instructions on general use. Remember: it’s important to consult your doctor before trying any new medical machinery and you should always read your device’s specific instructions first.
Position the Pads
- Before placing the electrode pads in your desired skin position, make sure the machine is switched off.
- Clean your chosen area and make sure skin is dry, as well as irritation or abrasion-free.
- Apply some conductive gel to the skin and make sure that sticky or rubber pads are placed either side of the pain, at least an inch apart.
- If you’re planning on moving around, fix the pads with medical tape.
Adjust the Strength
- To begin, set the pulse rate to your required setting. Most people tend to start with 100Hz, but you should always do what feels comfortable for you.
- Switch on the machine and turn it up in gradual increments until you feel a tingling sensation on the skin. Overall, it should feel quite strong but not painful or sharp. The sensation will drop away as your body adapts, so begin to increase the pulse rate when this happens.
- Avoid turning the machine up to high – muscle contractions should not occur, and if they do, overstimulation is in process. Discontinue use or reduce pulse rate back to lower level.
- After each session, turn off the machine and disconnect the electrodes. If you plan to use the device again on the same day, there is no need to remove the pads from the skin. Tuck the wires out of the way and carry on with your day as usual.
- At the end of a day of use, remove the pads gently and clean the skin using plain soap and water. In the case of irritation from pads or tape, choose a different skin area for your subsequent use.
- The machine should always be used for at least 45 minutes at a time. TENS can be used for up to 12 hours before the electrodes require cleaning and repositioning.
- Rubber pads should be cleaned well using soap and water. Rinse well and allow to air dry. Adhesive pads should not be washed.
TENS Machine Uses
A TENS machine can be used for a variety of conditions. Let’s look at some of them and explore how the TENS machine makes a difference.
Pain reduction is the primary use of a TENS machine. Designed to block pain signals emitted by nerves around the body, the device interrupts communications and stops these signals from reaching the brain.
When we’re in pain, our bodies can often suffer from bouts of inflammation. As a result, we feel more pain, and the vicious cycle continues. Several studies have found that TENS machines minimise inflammation deep within the muscle fibres.
Treating Anxiety and Depression
In one 2011 study, TENS reduced pain significantly in several patients. While there was no direct correlation to its impact on mental health, it’s often been found to help those suffering from chronic illnesses and other long-term injuries. Since depression is present in up to 85% of pain sufferers, it can be inferred that eliminating pain can also reduce poor mental health.
TENS Machine Side Effects
Since TENS machines do not enter the body and use light electrical impulses, the side effects are minimal, often caused by overuse or leaving pads on too long.
Some side effects which have been noted include:
- Burn marks from setting intensity too high or using for too long
- Skin irritation can occur when pads are left on too long
- Muscle twitching can occur during times of overstimulation
- Irritation to open wounds if guidance to avoid use is ignored
- Facial nerve damage if advice to avoid facial use is ignored
Who Can Use a TENS Machine?
Great news – if you’re thinking about using a TENS machine as pain relief, it’s likely that you can start straight away. We always recommend speaking to a health professional first for their expert opinion, but TENS machines are an excellent option for most people. They’re affordable, easy to use and have brought about some incredible results for plenty of people.
You should NOT use a TENS Machine:
- On your face or anywhere near your head
- On broken or damaged skin
- Over the front or side of the neck, close to eyes or in the mouth
- Over areas of reduced sensation
- Near water such as in the bath or shower
- If you have a pacemaker or other electrical internal device
- When driving or operating machinery
- If you are pregnant
Are TENS Machines Safe?
Since TENS machines are a non-invasive form of pain relief, they’ve rarely been recorded as causing any sort of harm to their users. However, you should always take caution when using a new medical device in the comfort of your home. If you’ve got pre-existing health conditions or you’re new to the TENS world, make sure to read the instructions properly and consult your doctor first.
How Long Does TENS Machine Pain Relief Last?
Like any medical condition, pain varies from person to person, depending on various factors. As a result, the pain relief you can experience after using a TENS machine also varies according to different research. While a 1991 study by Woolf shows that effects can last between 5 minutes and 18 hours, a 2003 review by Cheing et al. found that patients experienced no pain for the next 24 hours.
When In Doubt, Talk to Your Doctor
So, that’s everything you need to know about the TENS machine and how they work to relieve various symptoms related to pain. If you’re still unsure about how to use a TENS machine or want to learn more about TENS pain relief, it’s always best to speak to your doctor.
Ready to begin the journey to a happier you? CareMax is the one-stop-shop for affordable pain relief supplies in Australia. We’ve got a wide selection of TENS machines and other wellness products to get you started. Visit our website today to find out more!