People with widespread pain can use a TENS machine for fibromyalgia by placing the device near the affected area and controlling the frequency stimulation levels. Individuals who want to relieve pain while reducing their intake of medicines can benefit from Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). It is a non-invasive therapy utilising mild electrical currents to relieve pain symptoms. In addition, people with chronic pain can get a TENS machine for personal use instead of going to therapy centres.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder distinguished by musculoskeletal pain throughout the body. Various factors can trigger fibromyalgia, including stress, injury, and infections. Moreover, the condition results in muscle and joint stiffness and heightened sensitivity to touch, light, sound, odours, and temperature. People with fibromyalgia also report difficulty sleeping and fatigue. If you are considering TENS for chronic pain, the following sections will guide you through what a TENS machine is, how to use it, and its safety guidelines.
TENS Machine for Fibromyalgia – How Does It Relieve Pain?
A TENS machine for fibromyalgia is a portable device consisting of adhesive electrode pads connected to a handheld controller. When the electrode pads are placed near the pain site, they produce modulated electrical currents passing through the skin to reach the sensory nerves. The stimulation causes the nervous system to activate its mechanisms against pain. Through varying frequencies, it induces the body to block pain signals and release endorphins.
TENS can relieve pain through the sensory level of stimulation. This form of treatment falls under the “Gate Control Theory” of pain management. The theory states that constant electrical pulses can cause the closure of the gating channels or mechanisms in the spinal cord. Those “gates” are where pain signals pass through to reach the brain. Thus, the closure of these gating mechanisms can reduce the pain a person would typically feel from an injury or health condition like fibromyalgia.
Another way a TENS machine for fibromyalgia can help is through the motor level of stimulation. It uses low frequencies to trigger the release of natural pain-inhibiting chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins help relieve pain by stopping the nerve cells from sending pain messages to the brain. Additionally, they also reduce stress and enhance mood. Hence, higher endorphin levels help minimise the severity of fibromyalgia flares that typically last for a day or two.
Key Benefits of TENS
- Lessened pain associated with increased activity or movement-evoked pain such as work or exercise.
- Reduced fatigue-related fibromyalgia symptoms.
- Improved sleep patterns.
- Alternating high (pain gating) and low (endorphin release) frequencies help in a significant reduction of pain.
- Gentle movement or low-impact activities paired with TENS is more effective for pain relief.
How to Operate a TENS Machine for Fibromyalgia
You only need to remember two essential aspects when using a TENS machine for fibromyalgia – location and intensity. You may consult your physician for the correct placement guide and settings for a TENS unit for your particular condition. At the onset of pain, position the electrode pads near or around the most painful area. Then switch on the device and start with the lowest setting. Next, gradually increase the intensity until you reach the most therapeutic level.
Most TENS machines, like the iTENS, have preset settings for several pain conditions including fibromyalgia. Likewise, you may also choose a treatment based on the body parts where you feel the most pain. Therefore, users can conveniently select the setting to begin the therapy. If you experience pain in multiple areas, start with the most painful part and move to the next. However, ensure that you give a twenty-minute break between sessions.
Alternatively, users can customise their treatment by manually adjusting the TENS settings. Experimenting with various frequencies and intensities can help find optimal results. For people starting out using a TENS machine for fibromyalgia, it may take several trials before finding a suitable setting. Furthermore, individuals should consider the three main settings: amplitude, pulse width, and pulse rate. The results can vary between individuals.
TENS Machine Settings
- Amplitude – the strength of TENS sensation, expressed in milliamperes (mA).
- Pulse width – the duration of each electrical pulse per second, expressed in microseconds. The higher the pulse width, the more sensations a person feels.
- Pulse rate – the frequency or number of pulses per second, expressed in Hertz (Hz).
Safety Guidelines of TENS Machine for Fibromyalgia
A TENS machine for fibromyalgia is a natural and non-toxic method for relieving pain. It is generally safe for everyone with no adverse side effects. Therefore, people with chronic pain can use it frequently without the concern of developing dependency or tolerance, unlike oral medicines. Moreover, the stimulation from a TENS device would feel like a tingling or buzzing sensation that is firm but gentle and comfortable. Likewise, it should not cause contractions while using the device.
A TENS machine can easily fit in most areas where fibromyalgia pain typically appears, including the shoulders, back, hips, arms, and legs. However, particular areas should be avoided to prevent further damage. For instance, do not put the electrodes directly over the backbone and joints. Likewise, avoid placing the TENS pads on the head, throat, and chest. You may position the electrode pads on either side of the spine or surrounding the joints for back and joint pains.
For safe and effective treatment, place the pads at least one inch apart. At the same time, do not position them too wide as users may not feel sufficient relief. People with ongoing pain can start TENS therapy while working or being active. However, do not use a TENS machine for fibromyalgia while driving, operating machinery, sleeping, or showering. Additionally, only place the TENS pads on clean and dry skin. Avoid areas with broken wounds, and numb, or infected skin.
Are TENS for Everybody?
Despite being generally safe, TENS is not advisable without medical advice. Essentially, the following groups should refrain from using a TENS unit:
- Pregnant women (except in labour)
- People with a history of epilepsy
- Have heart conditions or disorders
- Have an electrical implanted device such as a pacemaker or defibrillator
- People with blood clots
Fibromyalgia can be challenging to treat as it has no definite cure. However, a TENS machine for fibromyalgia is safe and efficient for managing recurring symptoms. People can directly apply the TENS pads over the affected area and control the stimulation. Moreover, choose an FDA-cleared TENS device for worry-free pain relief. TENS machines can be purchased without a prescription and come with standard wired devices or wireless electrodes like the iTENS from iTENS Australia.
Aside from fibromyalgia, TENS therapy also helps relieve other chronic pain from arthritis, sciatica, bursitis, joint pains, and more. Since they do not have the risk of lasting side effects, they are suitable for long-term use. They are also easy and ready to use anytime, whenever pain strikes. Furthermore, interchangeable TENS pad sizes are convenient for various body areas. Lastly, it helps people manage their pain while reducing their dependence on oral painkillers or regularly going to the doctor.