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AU Registered Medical Device
12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

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Medical TENS Machine: How Does It Work?

A man holding the left side of his lower back

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive treatment method using a portable device with sets of electrodes. It is used in medical settings to relieve pain but is also available for home use. A medical TENS machine works by delivering electrical currents to the affected area through the electrodes. This causes the nerves to block the transmission of pain signals. In addition, the endorphins released during TENS therapy act as natural painkillers, helping to alleviate discomfort further.

People seek various pain management methods to relieve the symptoms and discomfort from different conditions. Traditional techniques include pain medicines and physical therapy. However, there are instances where they may not deliver adequate relief. Hence, many are looking for equally effective, less risky, and more convenient alternatives. This is where TENS therapy comes into play. The following sections will present how a TENS machine works, how to operate the device, and the necessary precautions.

How Does a Medical TENS Machine Work?

A medical TENS machine is a battery-operated device with electrodes that are placed on the skin. The device works by sending low-voltage electrical currents to stimulate the nerves in the affected area. This causes the “neural gates” in the spinal cord to close, blocking the pain signals from reaching the brain. This action is known as the pain gating mechanism.

Similarly, when the device is turned on, it produces a tingling or buzzing sensation, known as paraesthesia. This helps override the pain signals and distracts the brain from the pain. Moreover, the electrical stimulation stimulates the release of endorphins, hormones that act as natural pain relievers. Endorphins interfere with the nerve cells and prevent the pain messages from being sent to the brain.

The electrical impulses from the device also promote blood circulation. It increases blood flow to the affected area, thereby increasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients. Consequently, it aids in the healing and rehabilitation of damaged nerves or tissues. This can help individuals with muscle strains, postoperative pain, or limited mobility.

Advantages Over the Other Treatment Options

  • A TENS machine is a non-invasive form of pain relief. It does not involve incisions, which can have the risk of incisions.
  • TENS is a drug-free alternative treatment method. It is suitable for individuals who want to avoid the common side effects of medicines.
  • TENS provides localised pain relief and targets specific areas of the body through electrode placement.
  • Individuals can self-administer TENS therapy at home, allowing for convenience and flexibility.
  • TENS machines have adjustable pulse settings, providing personalised pain relief.
  • Individuals can use the TENS machine regularly without developing dependency.
  • TENS machines are portable, making them efficient for pain relief on the go.

A woman using wireless tens machines on the forearm and leg

How to Operate a Medical TENS Machine

To operate a medical TENS machine, there are some general steps to follow. Start by cleaning the skin of the target area. Remove any oils, lotion, or dirt that may affect the adhesion of the electrodes. Then, prepare the device by connecting the wires or Bluetooth to the pads. Once ready, place the electrodes on the pain area and turn on the TENS unit.

Adjust the settings (pulse rate, intensity, and pulse width) to the desired levels. Users may also select from a pre-set mode from the device. These programs have pre-determined parameters designed for a specific body part or health condition. Additionally, it is recommended to start with the lowest intensity and gradually increase until the sensations are strong but comfortable.

Finally, set the therapy duration to approximately 15 to 30 minutes at a time. After the session, turn off the device first before removing the electrode pads. Clean the pads and remove any residue before storing them. It is important to note that adjustments to the settings during the treatment may be necessary to prevent adaptation or tolerance.

Pad Placement Guide

The TENS pad placement may differ depending on the location of the pain. In general, position the electrodes on either side of the pain, creating a “sandwich” effect. For joint pain, place the pads above and below or on the sides of the joint.

Meanwhile, for widespread back pain, the electrode pads should be on both sides of the spine. Another guide is to put the electrodes at pressure points or along the nerve pathways to create a circuit of electrical impulses along the nerve fibres. Experimenting with pad placement can help find the most effective therapeutic results.

A person getting assistance in using a TENS unit on the wrist

Safety Precautions When Using a Medical TENS Machine

Medical TENS machines are generally easy to use without posing significant risks to the user. However, taking safety precautions is essential to prevent potential adverse effects. First and foremost, it is crucial to ensure that electrical nerve stimulation is not contraindicated to any existing medical conditions. This includes heart disease, epilepsy, and cancer.

Secondly, avoid using the TENS machine on certain body areas, including the head, throat, heart, and spinal column. It is also not advisable to use over areas of numbness or decreased sensation, as this can result in injury without the individual realising. Furthermore, avoid setting the intensity too high, as this can lead to skin irritation or further nerve damage.

It is also vital to follow the recommended duration of the TENS therapy, typically not more than 60 minutes. Prolonged use may lead to muscle fatigue and overstimulation. Lastly, do not use the TENS device while driving or operating heavy machinery, as it may cause distraction or interfere with concentration. Other activities to avoid are using TENS while sleeping and bathing.

When to See a Doctor?

It is important to consult a doctor if experiencing severe pain that persists for an extended period. While occasional aches are normal, pain that interferes with daily activities may require medical attention. Moreover, persistent pain can indicate an underlying condition, and a diagnosis can help determine the cause and appropriate treatments.

Furthermore, individuals should see a healthcare professional if using a TENS machine or other conventional methods does not help alleviate the pain. Additionally, any adverse or lasting side effects from the device should be reported to a doctor. It is always better to seek medical advice before undergoing TENS therapy.

Conclusion

A medical TENS machine is a portable device that uses electric currents to provide symptomatic relief. It works by stimulating the nerves to block pain signals and releasing endorphins. In addition, TENS therapy is a drug-free and non-invasive method of pain relief. It can help manage various types of pain, including acute and chronic or intractable pain. TENS also offers several advantages, such as convenience and no adverse effects. However, it is vital to use the TENS machine correctly.

To facilitate TENS therapy, individuals should follow the pad placement and settings guide. In general, position the electrode pads on either side of the pain or along the nerve pathways. It is also best to start with a low intensity and gradually increase to avoid discomfort. Knowing the safety precautions can help prevent unnecessary risks or side effects. In conclusion, the TENS machine can be an effective tool in the management of pain.

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