You can use a TENS machine for abs to relieve pain in the abdominal region. However, it should not be used for muscle building or weight loss. Many people can be confused with electrical stimulation (e-stim) devices such as TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), EMS (Electrical Muscle Stimulation), and abs stimulators. They all use electrodes to deliver electrical currents to the body but their uses or purposes differ.
A TENS unit aids in reducing acute or chronic pain symptoms. Individuals who want to manage pain without the harmful side effects of medicines opt for TENS therapy. In addition, it utilises electrode pads that are suitable for multiple areas in the body. Thus, people can apply TENS directly on the affected area without risk to other tissues or organs. The following sections present the uses of a TENS machine for abdominal pain, the usage guide, and its limitations.
When to Use a TENS Machine for Abs
There are many reasons to use a TENS machine for abs. Stomach or abdominal pain is very common and most people experience it at various points in life. Moreover, several conditions can cause pain or discomfort such as abdominal strain, irritable bowel syndrome, and period pain. A person can strain or pull a muscle due to overuse like playing sports or an intense workout. When this happens, the surface may feel tender and inflamed.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is one of the usual culprits for stomach pains. It is a gastrointestinal disorder that involves diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping and gas. Although it is common, severe conditions may need medications or treatments. Individuals may manage pain by taking supplements and medications. Additionally, studies show that continued use of TENS helps minimise abdominal pains and cramps. However, note that TENS therapy helps relieve symptoms but does not cure the cause of pain.
For many women, period pain is an unpleasant experience. It ranges from a dull ache to severe cramps in the abdomen that may spread to the lower back and thighs. Therefore, they use a TENS machine for abs to help reduce cramps and swelling. Moreover, TENS therapy is also beneficial after a surgical procedure like appendectomy and colonoscopy. It helps ease pain and discomfort by boosting blood circulation and facilitating faster healing.
Benefits of TENS
Aside from therapeutic relief, a TENS machine can help improve various pain conditions through the following benefits:
- reduces muscle tension
- serves as a distraction for cramps or contractions
- minimises swelling or inflammation
- provides stress and anxiety relief
- enhances mood
- improves sleep (through relaxation)
- reduces muscle spasm
How a TENS Machine for Abs Works
A TENS machine for abs consists of electrode pads placed on the skin near the pain site to deliver mild electrical impulses. It uses various frequency levels to elicit feedback from the nervous system. At high frequencies (50-100 Hz), TENS stimulates the nerve fibres in the spinal cord to close, blocking the passage of pain signals to the brain. Alternatively, low frequencies (2-10 Hz) induce the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-inhibiting hormones.
Proper care and guidance are vital for safe TENS therapy for abdominal pain. If you want to target the entire ab region, use between four to eight electrodes above and below the belly button. Align them symmetrically so the currents are directed towards the centre while maintaining at least a one-inch distance between the electrodes. However, if the pain is specific to one area, two sets of electrodes are enough.
Start with the lowest frequency level and gradually increase it to find the most effective results. It is essential not to turn the settings too high as it may stimulate the intestines and add discomfort. Furthermore, unlike EMS, a TENS machine for abs should not cause contractions. TENS targets sensory neurons that are responsible for sending pain signals. Meanwhile, an EMS machine stimulates the motor neurons involved in muscular contractions.
Features of TENS Machine
The following are vital to the efficiency of a TENS machine:
- Electrodes – TENS devices may come with the standard wired and wireless electrodes.
- Pain modes – most devices have pre-set features for various pain types according to body parts or health conditions.
- Frequency levels – the strength or intensity of the stimulation.
TENS Machine for Abs: Limitations
The primary purpose of using a TENS machine for abs is to target the nerves to relieve stomach, abdominal, or pelvic pain. It differs from other e-stim devices like EMS or abs stimulators which work on the muscles for strengthening or rehabilitation. In addition, EMS and abs stimulators utilise higher frequency levels than TENS to cause involuntary muscle contractions. Therefore, if you need muscle stimulation, EMS is more suitable.
TENS therapy is generally safe for most people. However, precautions are necessary when using a TENS unit like any medical device or treatment method. For instance, TENS is not advisable for people with heart conditions, epilepsy, blood clots, or electrical implanted devices. Likewise, pregnant women should not use a TENS unit on the abdomen to avoid inducing labour or uterine contractions. They may, however, use a TENS machine on the lower back during labour.
A TENS machine for abs is a helpful tool for relieving pain and discomfort without medicines. Additionally, its portability makes it convenient and efficient to use anywhere. Nevertheless, individuals should avoid using the device on broken wounds or infected skin. Moreover, do not place the TENS pads on the genitals, head, throat, joints, spine, and chest. Lastly, do not facilitate TENS while driving, operating machinery, showering, or sleeping overnight.
Other Considerations of TENS
- Do not use a TENS machine on unidentified or undiagnosed pain.
- Alternate the placement of electrodes to redirect the currents and allow the skin to rest.
- Trying out different TENS settings can help attain optimal results.
- TENS pads are reusable. However, they need replacement when they lose adhesiveness.
A TENS machine for abs is a safe, non-toxic, and all-natural pain relief method. Unlike oral medications, it does not have the risk of adverse side effects. However, if muscle building is your goal, using EMS or an abs stimulator is more suitable. Moreover, you can use a TENS device throughout the day with 20-minute breaks between sessions. You may consult a physician for advice on using TENS for your condition.
Furthermore, TENS therapy is a versatile pain management method for nerve, joint, and musculoskeletal pain. Chronic pain patients may use TENS to reduce their intake of medicines. Additionally, TENS machines come in various types and features. Modern wireless devices like the iTENS from iTENS Australia have Bluetooth-enabled electrodes that can connect to iOS and Android devices. Hence, users can control their pain relief from a smartphone without the inconvenience of wires.