One approach used in a rehabilitation program, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) uses an electric current to stimulate muscles to contract. Electrical impulses are thought to interrupt messages sent by pain receptors from the nerves to the brain. If the brain does not receive these messages, it does not recognize pain, and you do not feel any. Or, the electrical impulses released during TENS may encourage the body to produce more of its own endorphins, which are natural pain relievers. Thus, pain-free exercise may be possible.
The noninvasive TENS treatment involves placing small electrodes, held in place with adhesive, over the painful body part. These are attached to a machine that sends tiny electrical impulses to the painful joint or area of the body. The current impulses emitted by TENS are very low; you may feel a warm or tingling sensation at the site of placement. A 15-minute TENS session may be repeated frequently to help alleviate pain.
TENS may be used for a number of conditions to ease pain. These include
- migraines and tension headaches (A TENS device called Cefaly has recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for these patients.)
- cancer pain
- injuries that result in chronic pain
- postsurgical pain
- pain during childbirth
While TENS does not cure the source of the pain or treat the underlying problem, many people consider it to be worthwhile, even if the pain returns. Thus, it is worth talking to your physician and us about trying TENS to manage your pain. With pain-free exercise as part of a rehabilitation program, you can have a stronger, healthier body.