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What is a TENS unit?

TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.  A TENS unit is a small device with electrodes that send small stimulating electrical impulses across the skin’s surface to reduce pain. Designed for use at home, TENS units are used to treat symptoms such as back pain, postoperative pain, period pain and sports injuries. TENS units help provide a better quality of life for people with pain.

TENS units have different adjustable settings to control the intensity of the electrical impulses, and also the duration of each pulse. You can read more about TENS units here.

How do TENS units work?

A TENS unit delivers electrical impulses  that travel to the nerves through electrode pads that are placed directly on your skin. The theory behind TENS focuses on two primary principles:

1-Gate control theory:  The small electrical impulses sent by TENS disrupt the pain cycle by blocking pain receptors from reaching the brain.

2- Stimulating Endorphin release: Endorphin is the body’s feel good substance.

Because TENS is a noninvasive method for relieving pain, thousands of people use them and a lot of health professionals recommend TENS as a drug-free method for pain management.

How long should I use the TENS unit?

If you’re new to TENS therapy, it is a good idea to start with a 10-15 minute session to see how your body responds. In total, it is safe to use for up to 30 minutes.

Are TENS units safe?

The short answer is YES, TENS units are considered mostly safe and cause any side effects. Some patients may feel uncomfortable when using a TENS current that is too intense. Some people may also be allergic to the adhesive pads.

There are however a few cases where TENS units are not recommended.

When NOT to use a TENS unit?

First of all, TENS therapy should never be used on either the front of the neck or the eyes. Putting electrodes on the neck can lower blood pressure and cause spasms. On the eyes, the electrodes can increase pressure within the eye and possibly cause an injury.

Pregnant women should also avoid using TENS in the abdominal and pelvic regions, since the effect of TENS on fetuses is unknown at this time.

Also, people with epilepsy, people with heart problems, people with pacemakers, infusion pumps, defibrillators, or similar devices shouldn’t use TENS therapy.

Are TENS machines any good? Does TENS work?

The truth is there is still no scientific evidence whether TENS is a reliable pain relief therapy or not.  But a few studies have shown objective evidence that TENS may modulate or suppress pain signals in the brain. However, TENS isn’t a cure for pain and is only used to treat symptoms.

Are TENS units covered by insurance?

Medicare Part B and Medicare Part C plans cover rental, and in some cases purchase, of a TENS device prescribed by a physician, but only under limited circumstances. For patients suffering from Acute post-operative pain. Medicare Part B covers the rental, for up to 30 days, of a TENS device for a patient in acute pain immediately following a surgical procedure. For patients who have Chronic pain. Medicare Part B may cover a TENS unit for a patient who has been suffering from chronic pain for at least three months, for which other, standard pain relief methods have failed.

However, it is best to check with your health insurance whether your plan covers the purchase of a TENS unit or not.

What is the difference between TENS unit and EMS?

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) and EMS (Electrical muscle stimulation) both deliver low voltage electric impulses to stimulate. While TENS stimulates the nerves to keep the pain signals from reaching the brain, EMS stimulates the muscles and causes them to contract.

TENS is used for relief of chronic and acute pain, while EMS is used for muscle strengthening and rehabilitation purposes.