The TENS machine was invented by a neurosurgeon called Norman Shealy. He was the first doctor to look at the issue of chronic pain and he set up the first pain management clinic, the Shealy Institute, in 1971. TENS machines have been used for back pain, sports injuries and more recently, by women in labor as an effective and drug free method of pain relief.
What is a TENS Machine?
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator. Transcutaneous means through the skin. Electrodes are placed on the skin (on the lower back area) with sticky pads. Tiny electrical impulses are then sent through the electrodes. These electrical impulses cause the body to produce endorphins, which are natural painkillers.
The impulses can be increased with a dial or push button according to your level of pain and some TENS machines also have a ‘burst’ function for sudden increases in pain. If the machine is set at a high pulse level, it can also block pain by temporarily shutting down the nerves that report pain. This is called blocking the pain gate. High electrical pulses can also feel slightly uncomfortable and mask the sensation of pain.
Is TENS Dangerous?
TENS has no known side-effects. It does have varying success. Some people report that it is very effective and has an almost morphine like effect on them, others say it doesn’t make any difference and some people are irritated by the sensation of the electrical impulses, so it’s pot luck as to how you get on with it.
People with heart conditions or a pacemaker cannot use TENS machines as it may cause a worsening of the heart condition or interruption of the pacemaker.
It also cannot be used in water or in conjunction with massage oils because if you touch the electrodes, they will stop working. Oils can also cause the sticky pads to come loose. Pregnant women should not use TENS machines unless it is for relief of labor pains.
How Can I Have TENS Machine Therapy?
Your doctor can refer you to a physical therapist who may be able to arrange sessions for you with a TENS machine.