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TENS Unit for Trigger Finger: How Does It Work?

An elderly woman looking concerned about her bent fingers

The trigger finger is a condition that causes various inconveniences and restricts daily activities. It can even cause severe pain while gripping or grasping objects. Most people take oral medications, injections, or surgery for it. Another option is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). Using a TENS unit for trigger finger is a helpful alternative for the management of trigger fingers. It works by sending electric currents to the sensory nerves and triggering the pain gate mechanism and endorphin production.

Many people use therapy for various conditions. Besides helping regain finger movement, it can also help improve the range of motion by relaxing sore muscles and reducing inflammation. However, it is crucial to remember that TENS cannot directly treat the condition. Moreover, individuals with this condition should consult a medical professional to ensure that TENS is safe for them. This article will provide an overview of TENS units, how they work, and the pad placements for trigger fingers.

What Is a TENS Unit for Trigger Finger?

Trigger finger is a condition that affects the tendons around this finger, making it difficult to move them. Often, this can cause the digits to stay in a flexed position and make snapping sounds when the individual moves them. The conservative treatment for trigger finger is taking Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs). Severe conditions may even require surgical treatments.

An alternative to surgery or oral medicines is using a TENS unit for trigger finger. A TENS machine is a small, battery-powered device that sends low-voltage electric currents to the body. It is commonly seen in medical settings, such as hospitals, pain clinics, and physical therapy centres. It is an effective treatment of pain from various acute and chronic conditions.

There are many benefits to using this device. Firstly, it is non-invasive and drug-free. It has minimal risks, especially compared to pain medicines and surgical procedures. It is also a helpful alternative for people with a fear of injections. Furthermore, these devices are portable and easy to self-administer. Hence, people can bring them to various locations and undergo a session whenever the pain flares up.

Causes and Symptoms for Trigger Finger

Causes:

  • Repetitive grasping or gripping motions: activities like gardening, playing instruments, or work that requires these movements can contribute to trigger thumbs and fingers. Racket sports athletes are also likely to develop this.
  • Musculoskeletal disorders: osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout are some examples of conditions that can cause this.
  • Other health conditions, including diabetes, thyroid issues, and tuberculosis, can increase risks for this.

Signs of trigger finger include:

  • Painful clicking or snapping when moving the finger.
  • Stiffness or occasional locking of the digits, preventing active flexion.
  • Tenderness or lumps at the base of the finger joint.
  • Worsening aches when gripping an object.

A news report about TENS as a faster pain relief method

How Does a TENS Unit for Trigger Finger Work?

A TENS unit for trigger finger works by delivering electrical pulses to the sensory nerves. This can alleviate pain and contribute to the treatment of trigger fingers by activating certain body mechanisms. Moreover, users can adjust the intensity, frequency, and pulse-width settings for optimal relief.

The pain gate mechanism was derived from the Gate Control Theory of Pain. It suggests that electrical stimulation can induce the spinal nerve cells to block pain signals. This results in immediate pain relief suitable for trigger finger pain. Moreover, it also increases blood flow to the target area. This can help relax sore muscles from work or exercises using adjustable finger weights.

Another mechanism is the production of endogenous opioids. These hormones are natural painkillers that bind to opioid receptors. They can cause overall pain reduction and help alleviate inflammation. Furthermore, endorphins can also improve moods and reduce stress. Overall, TENS units can supplement conservative management methods, like steroid injections, and provide beneficial and safe therapy.

Understanding Electrical Stimulation

TENS therapy is a form of non-invasive electrical stimulation. It uses externally applied adhesive electrodes to send electrical stimulation for relief. This stimulation adjusts depending on the settings the user inputs. The intensity refers to the strength of the stimulation. It is generally advised to start with low settings and gradually increase them to avoid discomfort.

Meanwhile, frequency refers to the number of electrical pulses delivered per second. High frequencies range between 50-120 Hz. On the other hand, low frequencies are below 10 Hz. Lastly, pulse width refers to the duration of each electrical pulse. A shorter pulse width generally delivers concentrated stimulation.

An elderly woman using an iTENS electrode on her wrist while reading

TENS Unit for Trigger Finger Electrode Pad Placement

Proper electrode placement is crucial when using a TENS unit for trigger finger. Hence, many refer to placement charts or guides when using TENS. Some also consult healthcare professionals for advice on how to use the unit for the treatment of trigger finger. This is ideal since professionals can ensure that TENS therapy suits the individual.

Generally, users must place the electrode pads on muscles near or on the pain source. This facilitates targeted relief of symptoms. For trigger fingers, the ideal placement is placing one pad on top of the affected finger and another one underneath. They may also opt to position the electrode on the wrist.

However, it is important to use TENS pads that fit the area well. This can prevent them from slipping off and causing electric shocks. In addition, they must avoid skin patches with broken, infected, or irritated skin. Lastly, they must ensure that the wired or wireless electrodes are at least an inch apart to avoid interference.

Wireless Electrodes for Increased Mobility

There are generally two types of TENS units. The traditional units use lead cables to connect the controller and the pads. Meanwhile, wireless electrodes have Bluetooth connectivity, which removes the restrictions from lead cables. Moreover, they often have advanced features. Some also have additional program modes accessible using a smartphone app.

Wireless electrodes are ideal for people with active lifestyles. They are also convenient for most people since they require less set-up. Some are also wearable devices that people can use while doing simple activities. Overall, wireless units provide convenience by removing the restrictions of traditional units and increasing mobility during sessions.

Conclusion

Using a TENS unit for trigger finger is an effective method for alleviating aches and improving the range of finger movements. It uses electrical pulses to stimulate the sensory nerves and activate mechanisms for relief. The pain gate mechanism is ideal for sudden pains. Meanwhile, endorphin production can help reduce stress and inflammation while providing longer-lasting relief. Lastly, TENS also increases blood flow to the target area, relaxing sore muscles and improving blood circulation.

Individuals interested in using TENS units may select between traditional and wireless units. However, they should ensure the unit has pads to address their condition. Proper pad placement is crucial, so they should be applied correctly for effective treatment. For trigger fingers, they should place the pads on top and underneath the finger or below the wrist joint. Those who wish to purchase a wireless unit for convenience may consider the iTENS from iTENS Australia.

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