Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS is considered an alternate therapy, though various types of TENS units are used by medical professionals in traditional fields, like physical therapists. As its name describes, electrotherapy with a TENS unit involves stimulating nerve endings by sending electric currents through your skin. The goal of this nerve stimulation is to help relieve pain. Because the effects are temporary, you might need to use a TENS unit on an ongoing basis.
EMS or electronic muscle stimulators are TENS units that target muscles as well as nerves and are used to help heal muscle injuries. The electric pulses cause muscle fibers to contract and then relax, much as they do during strength training, but electrical muscle stimulation is considered passive. Muscle stimulators are often used by PTs during rehab as part of the healing process.
Small, portable TENS units are available for home use so that you can maintain a treatment regimen on your own, after rehab for instance. Home TENS units are usually connected to the skin using padded electrodes usually placed on your back. Look for home TENS units that offer dual channels; this enables the pulses to be isolated to provide the most effective delivery pattern. Better home TENS units also feature adjustable intensity and asymmetrical bi-phase square wave patterns that allow you to vary the timing, length and intensity of the electrical impulses sent from the device. For the best results, follow guidelines from a PT or other pain or rehab professional since there can be significant variations possible with even the simplest home TENS unit.
Benefits Of Electrotherapy Include:
- Non-invasive, immediate relief targeting the exact area of pain
- Faster recovery of muscle and soft issue damage
- Reduced pain and swelling allowing for greater range of motion
- Increased blood circulation
- Better control of muscle spasms
- More economical relief than certain drug therapies and surgeries that may also have unwanted side effects
Health Caution: If you have a pacemaker, avoid using TENS therapy because the electrical current could interfere with the operation of your heart device.