By: Dr Alex Robber
What is TENS?
Transcutaneous stimulation of the electric nerve (TENS) is a technique often used to relieve acute or regional pain. Electrodes transmit electrical signals to local nerve receptors during the TENS therapy that can help regulate or alleviate certain forms of pain.
Also, TENS is used for treating osteoarthritis, chronic pain and postoperative pain. A personal TENS unit is a pocket-sized device that has a few cables connected to the electrodes. You stick the electrodes around where you have pain and the system sends a small amount of electricity across the field.
TENS can be helpful in reducing pain in persons with fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that is characterized by generalized pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as weakness and the places of several tender points on the body that cause discomfort by mild pressure. Fibromyalgia pain is not limited to a particular area, so TENS therapy is not generally used as a therapy.
However, some research has shown that TENS can be effective in reducing pain in people who have fibromyalgia, particularly in combination with other treatments, such as exercise. TENS or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation offers pain relief that is non-invasive and free from drugs.
Pads are put at the back, near the pain center. TENS uses relaxing pulses which are transmitted through the skin and through the nerve fibers via the pads. The pulses counteract the brain’s pain receptors and enable the body to generate higher levels of its own natural pain killing chemicals-endorphins and encephalines.
TENS is generally considered a very safe treatment.
It is also believed that TENS can cause the brain to release endorphins, which are the natural painkillers for the body. Pain leads to stress, leading to more pain, leading to increased stress etc. Breaking that cycle will give the muscles the relaxation which can be so difficult to get through, and TENS can help break that cycle.
TENS is usually considered a procedure which is very effective. So long as the power isn’t set too high, it’s not painful. It does not interfere with drugs or other therapies. It won’t make you loop like medications that can cause discomfort, and it rarely causes unpleasant side effects.
You can do it with a personal device when you really need it, even without needing to make an appointment or leave the home. A significant number of the general population cannot withstand TENS. We don’t know if that number is higher in fibromites but it’s fair with how sensitive we are. It doesn’t take long however to decide whether or not you like the feeling. Chances are the first few tingles will let you know.
Where Can You Get One?
Before doing some form of physical therapy it is best to consult a doctor. They will give you advice on whether TENS therapy will be good for you or not. For fact, several physical therapists and pain centers will have one on hand so you will be able to make your own decision to do it yourself. If you’re interested in having one for yourself, there are plenty of places to buy a TENS unit online. Most cost under $100. Ensuring you get a good one is best, but simply because one is more expensive doesn’t mean it’s better. Read comments carefully on every product before buying. They come in a range of sizes but almost all of them are powered by batteries and are compact. A smaller model has the advantage that several can be directly clipped onto a belt. Which means you can fasten the pads under your clothing to your skin and use the computer all day long. Since the relief offered by TENS therapy is temporary, it is a major benefit to be able to turn the machine on regularly when it comes to treating your pain.
Best tens machines for fibromyalgia
Pure Enrichment PurePulse Pro TENS Machine
The Pure Enrichment PurePulse Pro offers medical-grade pain relief and is the most widely used TENS tool I ever stumbled on. I have never used this TENS machine at a strength level of over 17-18 and this one is very good at the beginning of each rehab for those gentle pulsations. And if you’re not using it at a physical therapist’s convenience, it comes with a video series showing its different ways of treating pain in all areas of the body. Disclaimer: These videos I haven’t seen but I guarantee they are of quality! This comes also with 2-year warranty.
Tens Units by NURSAL
This thin, lightweight, compact and portable TENS system features eight reusable electrodes that are contoured to fit any part of the body. It has twelve high-frequency stimulation and twenty levels of intensity, which work for all muscle groups. The app is user-friendly and has an animated LCD screen with a pause button, which is easy to read.
Gold TechCare Mini Massager TENS Machine
This one is a very interesting option but it should be purchased with caution. It’s the size of an ipod and just as fast as it gets. It has 2 patches for the electrode which can be switched off. It also has a rechargeable battery which lasts approximately 10 hours.
The screen is quite small, and the brightness is not as high as some of the others (i.e. very low, but as a person with sciatica or fibromyalgia, you won’t need a better one). It comes with a lifetime warranty and a guarantee of 30 days’ money back.
Know also that what works for some of us isn’t working for us all. Each diagnosis is better approached with cautious optimism. When a TENS doesn’t feel right to you, just don’t stick with it because it worked for someone else.
- Carbonario F, Matsutani LA, Yuan SL, Margues AP. Effectiveness of high-frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation at tender points as adjuvant therapy for patients with fibromyalgia. European journal of physical and rehabilitation medicine. 2013 Apr;49(2):197-204.
- Dailey DL, Rakel BA, Vance CG, et al. Transcutaneous electrical never stimulation reduce pain, fatigue and hyperalgesia while restoring central inhibition in primary fibromyalgia.Pain. 2013 Nov;154(11):2554-62.
- Lofgren M, Norrbrink C. Pain relief in women with fibromyalgia: a cross-over study of uperficial warmth stimulation and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Journal of rehabilitation medicine. 2009 Jun;41(7):557-62.
- Mutlu B, Parker N, BugdayciD, Tekdos D, Kesiktas N. Efficacy of supervised exercise combined with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in women with fibromyalgia: a prospective controlled study. Rheumatology international. 2013 Mar;33(3):649-55.
- Nijs J, Meeus M, Van Oosterwijck J, et al. Treatment of central sensitization in patients with ‘unexplained’ chronic pain: what options do we have? Expert opinion on pharmacotherapy. 2011 May;12(7):1087-98.