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Sep 2021

TENS Machines Explained

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TENS Machine and Its Uses

What is a TENS Machine and how does it work?

TENS is short for transcutaneous (below the skin) electrical nerve stimulation. A TENS machine is used to treat pain and is an alternative to painkilling medication. TENS Machines are small portable and battery powered making it easy to carry on your body. TENS have small electrical pulses that are transmitted to the body and feel like small electric shocks. The intensity of shocks can be adjusted higher or lower depending on one’s tolerance. These shocks can help to ease pain in some people with certain types of pain. In many cases TENS machines are well tolerated and largely without any side-effects.

The electrical impulses or shocks are delivered via electrodes that are placed on the skin. TENS Machines are thought to affect the way pain signals are sent to the brain. If the stimulation pain signals can be blocked by the tiny electrical impulses from the TENS then the brain may receive fewer signals from the source of pain. In normal modes of use the electrical impulses generated by the TENS interfere with and block pain messages sent to the brain. At lower pulse modes the TENS can stimulate the body to make its own pain-easing chemicals called endorphins that can help block pain signals.

How to Use a TENS Machine?

A TENS Machine is best used under the advice of a doctor or a regulated health professional such as a Physiotherapist or Massage Therapist. The TENS Machine is quite easy to use and are controlled by the user allowing them the ability to adjust settings without visiting a medical professional. Typically TENS Machines are used for about 20-30 minutes at a time but can be used several times of day. Some ways TENS machines are used:

  • People with musculoskeletal pains such as chronic back pains
  • Postoperative pain
  • Some acute pain conditions
  • Joint arthritis
  • Can also be helpful for those with fibromyalgia
  • Sports Injuries

TENS Machines can be used by itself for pain relief or combined with other treatments, but the use of TENS may allow a reduction in painkilling medications taken. TENS Machines are widely available and range in price. The better ones can be somewhat expensive but if you have extended health insurance through your employer it may cover most if not all the cost of a TENS. Before buying a TENS consult a doctor or health professional for advice. When using a TENS Machine try to take things slowly and see the results.

Cautions and Instructions About TENS Machine
TENS Machine and Its Uses
TENS Machines

Some Cautions and Instructions when using a TENS Machine

  • TENS Machines are designed so that you can move around while they work. They can be easily tucked into a pocket or a clip on your belt.
  • Before placing electrodes on the skin make sure the TENS machine is switched off to avoid sudden shocks.
  • Make sure the skin where the pads will be applied are clean dry and there are no cuts, grazes or any skin irritation.
  • Most TENS come with self-adhesive pads that stick directly to the area being applied. The pads should not be placed too close together, ideally have a health professional show you where to place the pads.
  • When moving around using tape on top of the pads help keep them stuck on while active.
  • When switching on the TENS turn up the intensity gradually until you feel a tingling sensation. The sensation needs to be strong but comfortable. After using for a few minutes you may notice the sensation intensity drop somewhat, this is normal.
  • If the area of the skin is red you may need to use new pads or tape. The intensity may also have been set too high.
  • Don’t place pads on broken or damaged skin. Do not use the electrodes on the front or side of the neck close to the eyes or mouth.
  • Don’t use over areas of reduced sensation and never use near water such as a bath or shower.

Can TENS Machines be used by everybody?

As indicated before TENS are used mostly for musculoskeletal pain such as muscles joints and nerves. They can also be helpful for those with arthritis, post-operative pain, those with fibromyalgia, and sports injuries. You should not use TENS when the cause of pain is not known or is not diagnosed. They shouldn’t be used for pregnancy unless medically advised. They should NOT be used with pacemakers, epilepsy or certain types of heart disease.

Common questions about TENS:

How Long do Electrodes Last?

There are several factors in how long electrodes can last. The more they are used and longer intervals will reduce electrode life. Those with body hair will find it doesn’t last long and they should be used on bare skin if possible. Getting electrodes wet will shorten their usage.

Where can I purchase electrodes?

Self adhesive electrodes are relatively inexpensive and can usually be bought from the store where the TENS unit was purchased.

Does my insurance cover the cost of a TENS Machine?

Most insurance companies will cover the cost of a TENS although there usually is a limitation on the amount of coverage. Contact your insurance carrier for more details.

Do I need a referral to purchase a TENS Machine?

If you are purchasing a TENS unit through your extended health carrier you will need a doctor’s referral which must indicate the medical condition being treated. If you are purchasing the TENS for your own use discuss options with your health professional.

Are TENS Machines Expensive?

There are a great number of good choices when it comes to TENS Machines and there is a wide variation in cost. Some basic units can be purchased for around $100 whereas sophisticated TENS machines can exceed a $1000. Most of the TENS units we carry tend to be very good quality units that range from $300-$500.

For more information about TENS and how they can help you please contact Dynamic Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Clinic Inc at 905-273-5433 or contact us via our website.

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