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What is a TENS Unit

What is a TENS Unit
Learn the answer to the commonly asked question “What is a TENS Unit” and how to manage your pain using a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Device.

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Why Do We Have Pain?

Pain is the body's warning system. It alerts us to injury or illness. When the body is functioning normally, pain serves as a vital warning sign when something is not right. Without pain a person would not know when to get away from danger or to seek medical help. Pain signals in the form of electrical impulses, travel through the body's nervous system from the site of the injury or ailment to the brain. Then, at the brain, these impulses are interpreted as pain.

What Is TENS Unit?

The most common question we hear is “What is a TENS Unit?”. T.E.N.S. stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Pain, whether chronic (long-term) or acute (short-term, often from surgery or trauma), can be relieved through a variety of methods including drugs, topical ointments, surgery, and electrical stimulation. T.E.N.S. devices deliver mild electrical pulses through the skin to stimulate the cutaneous (surface) and afferent (deep) nerves to help control pain. Unlike drugs or topical ointments, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation does not have any known side effects.

What is TENS and How Does it Control Pain?

There are two major theories as to how electrical stimulation relieves pain. According to the "gate control theory" pain and non-pain impulses are sent to the brain from the local nervous system. These impulses travel through the cutaneous nerves to the deeper afferent nerves and then to the spinal cord and brain. Along the path are many areas referred to as "gates." These gates control which impulses are allowed to continue to the brain. The gates prevent the brain from receiving too much information too quickly. Since the same nerve cannot carry a pain impulse and a non-pain impulse simultaneously, the stronger, non-pain impulse (from the T.E.N.S. device) "controls the gate," and basically over rides the pain signal, resulting in less pain perception. According to the second theory, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation encourages one's body to produce and release greater amounts of a chemical called endorphin. Endorphins are our body's own natural painkillers that are released as a natural function to overcome pain. Endorphins interact with pain receptors, blocking the perception of pain, much as the pharmaceutical drugs or a narcotic such as morphine does, but without the side effects associated with these types of drugs. T.E.N.S. has no curative value; however, for many people who are suffering from pain due to an injury or ailment, the use of T.E.N.S. can help manage their pain considerably. Pain suffers who have not been able to find relief from drugs or who may have experienced uncomfortable side effects from drugs, may find T.E.N.S. to be a great alternative in controlling the pain. In today's fast-paced lifestyle, many people just do not have the time to be set back due to pain. T.E.N.S. devices can help them control and manage their pain, so that they may still be able to perform their daily functions at home or at work, return to work sooner, or perhaps enjoy more activities than they have before.

Advantages of T.E.N.S.

There are a number of advantages of T.E.N.S. which makes it appealing to both the clinician and the patient.

• Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a non-evasive device.

• It is portable.

• T.E.N.S. is user friendly and safe to be used by the patient at home. It therefore offers the patient a self-management option -- a desirable aspect of any treatment program since this has been shown to increase patient compliance and response to treatment.

• After the initial cost of purchasing a T.E.N.S. device, the replacement of batteries and electrodes are the main running costs. In long-standing cases of pain, this is cheaper than regular prescriptions for analgesics.

• The precautions and contradictions associated with T.E.N.S. are few and largely based on common sense. In addition, side-effects are minimal (i.e. skin irritation)

• T.E.N.S. is non-addictive

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