Pain Management with a Pulse: TENS Provides a Drug-Free Option

By Liz Genest Smith

If you deal with a chronic condition, have ever been injured, or are simply over 40, you know how important it is to have effective pain management strategies. Some people rely solely on medication, some are disciplined enough to rely on meditation, but if you’re looking for something in between, you may want to consider a TENS machine.

The technical name for this technology is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), and it’s delivered via a portable, battery-operated
device that is worn on the body. A small box is attached by wires to stickers that, when placed on the skin, send out small electrical pulses that can help ease certain types of nerve and muscle pain. 

How does it work? At a high pulse rate, electrical impulses generated by the machine are thought to disrupt pain messages and keep them from reaching the brain. At a lower pulse rate, it’s said to stimulate the production of endorphins, the body’s pain-easing chemicals, producing an effect similar to drug therapy. 

It is not recommended for:

  • undiagnosed pain 
  • pregnant women (unless a doctor advises, or the woman is in labor)
  • those with pacemakers, epilepsy or certain types of heart disease
  • wound healing

There are multiple companies manufacturing TENS units, and prices range from as low as $30 up to $500 or higher. If you are confused or overwhelmed by the selection, it’s a good idea to read reviews or seek out comparisons. The Good Body’s website — which reviews health products, gadgets and technology — recently put out a helpful list of TENS devices at various price points, along with features and ratings. It can be found at: www.thegoodbody.com/what-is-the-best-tens-unit.

While scientific research on its effectiveness is inconclusive, many people swear by the TENS machine, which is reportedly well-tolerated and mostly without side effects. Results vary, of course, but for those in pain, it’s a chemical-free option that’s worth exploring. 

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