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

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TENS Physiotherapy: Overview

A woman touching her shoulder area

Chronic and acute pain in adults can be debilitating. Thus, healthcare professionals recommend undergoing physiotherapy. Therapists utilise Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or TENS in physiotherapy for a comprehensive treatment. It can help improve pain control, enhance muscle function, and reduce the reliance on medications. TENS blocks pain messages and boosts endorphins release. To apply these mechanisms, people must attach adhesive electrode pads to the affected area. As the session progresses, they can modify the unit settings as necessary.

Taking painkillers is a traditional way to alleviate pain. However, its long-term use can lead to dependence and side effects. Hence, having an alternative approach, such as physiotherapy, is essential. The combination of TENS and physiotherapy offers many positive effects. It provides a non-invasive and drug-free option to reduce discomfort. To learn more about this method of pain relief, the article will present the role of electrical stimulation in physiotherapy, the mechanisms of action, and the proper application of TENS.

The Role of TENS in Physiotherapy

TENS in physiotherapy is an in-demand treatment method to manage pain. It utilises sets of electrodes and a control panel. The unit produces gentle electric currents. Subsequently, the electrical pulses from TENS cause a sensation that can help relieve pain. Professional therapists in pain clinics or treatment centres typically administer TENS therapy to patients.

In physiotherapy, TENS is often used as part of a comprehensive pain management plan for conditions such as arthritis, back pain, and postoperative pain. It can be particularly beneficial for individuals who are unable to tolerate medications or prefer to avoid them altogether. Additionally, TENS can improve muscle and joint function, reduce inflammation, and promote healing in injured or overworked tissues.

Physiotherapists often incorporate TENS into their treatment plans to help patients manage their pain. Moreover, they often apply TENS to improve overall function and mobility. It is sufficient as a standalone treatment, but combining it with other physiotherapy techniques is also favourable. This addresses a wide range of musculoskeletal and neurological conditions.

Types of Pain Conditions Treated with TENS

  • Musculoskeletal pain – TENS can treat pain related to muscles, joints, and ligaments. It alleviates discomfort from conditions like back pain and fibromyalgia. The causes of these conditions are typically overuse, poor posture, muscle imbalances, or trauma.
  • Neuropathic pain – Electrical stimulation can help nerve-related pain, including diabetic neuropathy, nerve entrapment, and phantom limb pain.
  • Chronic pain – Professional therapists or individuals can utilise electrical nerve stimulation machines to handle chronic pain conditions. These include cancer pain, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, and complex regional pain syndrome.
  • Acute pain – People with acute pain conditions, such as post-operative pain, sports injuries, and labour pain, can rely on TENS treatment sessions.

A TENS kit with refillable gel pad pack and necessary information

Mechanisms of Action When Using a TENS in Physiotherapy

TENS in physiotherapy is a commonly used modality. Its mechanism of action involves applying low-voltage electrical currents to the skin to stimulate the nerves and alleviate pain. The electrical stimulation can disrupt the transmission of pain signals from the spinal cord to the brain, leading to less pain perceptions. This management of pain is based on the Gate Control Theory.

Additionally, TENS may trigger the release of endorphins. These are natural pain-relieving substances the body produces. Endorphin production can promote well-being by inducing feelings of relaxation and euphoria. This can be particularly beneficial for patients suffering from chronic pain conditions because its effects can last a relatively long time.

Another mechanism of action when using TENS is its ability to improve circulation. The electrical impulses from a TENS device can increase blood flow to the pain site. Consequently, it can aid in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and facilitate healing. Moreover, TENS can help relax muscle spasms and reduce muscle tension, resulting in better function.

Understanding Frequencies and Intensities

Frequency refers to the number of electrical pulses an electrical nerve stimulation unit delivers per second. It can range from low (1-9 Hz) to high (50-120 Hz) frequencies. The former is more suitable for chronic pain, while the latter is more appropriate for acute pain.

Intensity refers to the strength of the electrical impulses a TENS machine delivers. It is measured in milliamps (mA), and users can adjust it to suit their tolerance and treatment goals. They can utilise higher intensities for larger muscle groups or deep pain. Meanwhile, lower intensities are for sensitive areas or patients with lower pain thresholds.

A man using a TENS machine on his arm

How to Apply TENS in Physiotherapy

Applying TENS in physiotherapy is straightforward. Thus, individuals at home can also operate it. To begin, clean the skin surface by wiping it with a damp cloth. This removes any dirt or oil that may interfere with the adhesion of sticky pads. Next, attach the electrodes to the TENS unit by inserting the wires into the designated slots. Those with wireless models can directly place the patches on the pain site.

After everything is in place, adjust the TENS machine to the desired settings for optimal outcomes. Avoid using the strongest intensity or frequency immediately. Otherwise, it may cause discomfort or sudden electrical shocks. Instead, always start low and slowly increase it as the TENS session progresses. Monitor for signs of allergic reactions or skin irritation.

Moreover, observe for any changes in pain intensity or muscle activation. Then, once the treatment duration, around 20-30 minutes, is up, turn off the device and remove the electrode pads. If undergoing therapy sessions in a clinic, listen to the feedback of the physiotherapist. If administering without a medical professional, follow the instructions of doctors or the user manual.

Electrode Placements for Effective Pain Relief

Proper TENS pad placement is crucial for its effectiveness. Generally, apply the electrodes directly over the area of pain. Also, people can attach sticky pads near the pain sites. This can be above, below, or beside it. However, avoid body parts with broken skin to prevent further discomfort.

Individuals can utilise different kinds or sizes of electrical nerve stimulation pads. For large areas, such as the back or the thigh, people can use larger electrodes to cover a wider surface area. On the other hand, smaller patches are appropriate for smaller areas like around the joints or muscles.

Conclusion

Electrical nerve stimulation is beneficial in managing different types of pain. These include neuropathic pain, cancer pain, and postoperative pain. Using TENS in physiotherapy aids health professionals in the rehabilitation process of patients. Its mechanisms of action include the Gate Control Theory of Pain and the release of endorphins. They work effectively to alleviate discomfort and improve blood flow. Physiotherapists and individuals apply TENS through electrode pads they attach to the skin.

To achieve an optimal level of pain relief, users can adjust the frequency or intensity of the electrical stimulation. However, they must always begin with low settings to avoid shocks or skin irritation. In addition, people should administer TENS for only the recommended duration. Overall, TENS is valuable because of its user-friendly, non-invasive, and drug-free nature. Those who want to purchase a personal unit can check iTENS from iTENS Australia. They offer wireless and Bluetooth-enabled models.

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