Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (cont.)

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What is a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit?

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Today, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation units, or TENS units, are commonly used to treat many types of pain, including chronic back and neck pain. Unlike the early devices, where the amount of electricity delivered might vary, TENS units supply a controlled electrical current to stimulate nerve endings through surface electrodes, which are placed over the affected region.

How does transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation work?

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The rationale for using a TENS unit for pain control is based on the inability of the spinal cord and peripheral nerves to multi-task -- that is, impulses that are being carried along a pathway within the nervous system effectively block that pathway from transmitting other signals. In essence, flooding a pathway with low-level stimulation keeps pain signals from reaching the brain.

TENS units are reported to work rapidly, although it can take some adjustment to find the correct level of stimulation. Additionally, TENS units are portable, which can improve the mobility of a patient experiencing chronic pain. However, not all types of pain respond to this method of treatment and any effect tends to be short-lived; pain quickly recurs once the stimulator is removed.

Who is a good candidate for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation?

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Although this therapy isn't for everyone, individuals looking for a relatively inexpensive, well-tolerated treatment option with few side effects may find a TENS unit a good option to explore.

REFERENCE:

Macdonald, Alexander J. R. "A brief review of the history of electrotherapy and its union with acupuncture." Acupuncture in Medicine 11 (1993): 66-75.


Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/30/2013

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