TENS unit is a widely used therapy device in treating acute and chronic pain. Although it may sound a bit complicated, using a TENS device is not difficult at all.
In this guide, you’ll learn: what a TENS unit is, how it works, some similarities and differences between TENS and EMS. You’ll also find answer to quite a burning question many folks have: Do TENS units kill cells?
Near the end, we’ll guide you through 5 simple steps in choosing the right TENS unit and how to correctly use this device. You’ll leave with a new sense of confidence in using a TENS unit either for you or your loved ones. So now, read on to find out more!
- 1 What is a TENS Unit?
- 2 How Does a TENS Unit Work?
- 3 What are the Similarities and Differences Between TENS and EMS?
- 4 Do TENS Units Kill Cells?
- 5 5 Simple Steps to Choose the Right TENS Unit for You
- 6 How to Use a TENS Unit?
- 7 Conclusion
What is a TENS Unit?
TENS unit is a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation device. In plain language, this little device sends out vibrations at different frequencies through the electrodes (the square sticky pads in the picture above) attached to your skin or the area that’s causing you pain.
It helps reduce various types of acute and chronic pain like: neck pain, labor pain, back pain, etc. In fact, a biomedical engineer with the FDA, Michael Hoffmann, said that 95% of users of Cefaly (the first TENS model) reported no complaint using the device. Additionally, he said that TENS might well open the gates to more options for patients with migraines, an often under-treated and under-diagnosed pain.
As of now, there are more and more wireless TENS units available, freeing you from the hassle of the wires getting all tangled up.
In the U.S., all TENS units are FDA approved. In most states, you can buy a TENS unit over-the-counter (OTC cleared). In several states, however, to own a TENS unit, you must have a doctor’s prescription. So, be sure to check with your doctor or physical therapist for the current laws and regulations.
How Does a TENS Unit Work?
We wouldn’t want to give you a headache going into all the specifics of how a TENS unit works. It’s really helpful that you understand some basic science behind this technology so you can safely use the device on your own or help your loved ones use it.
See, in its most basic, TENS is an electrical device. What it does is sends out electrical impulses at different frequencies through the pads placed directly on your skin.
What’s great about it is that you are in control of the frequency. If you need a refresher, those frequencies are measured in Hz (hertz). The higher you set the Hz, the more vigorous the electrical vibrations will be.
Two principles that makes TENS work are: Gate Control Theory and Endorphin Release.
With Gate Control, TENS mimics the electrical nervous pathway the pain is going to your brain (see, that’s why it’s called Electrical Nerve Simulation). This helps cancel out the pain signal and blocks pain receptors at the same time.
With Endorphin Release, TENS stimulates the release of endorphin. This is a feel-good hormone that’s good for your overall physical and mental health. As you can see, this is an addition approach as opposed to the subtraction approach above. Taken together, these two give you a well-balanced therapy reducing pain while helping your body heal.
We hope that it makes sense to you up until now. For those who are visual learners, check out this video which explains exactly how TENS works:
What are the Similarities and Differences Between TENS and EMS?
Like any good pair (Adidas vs Nike or Apple vs Samsung), when you hear people talk about TENS you will often hear they mention EMS.
In short, EMS stands for Electrical Muscle Stimulation. It sounds sort of like TENS, doesn’t it? But what are the similarities and differences then?
Check out below:
On the basic level, both TENS and EMS devices send out very gentle and low frequency electrical pulses to ease pain.
You can control the frequency of the signal on both devices. Most TENS and EMS models nowadays have wires and electrode pads so you can conveniently place on your skin.
They both run on battery and there are now some more portable and smaller wireless models which you can conveniently use in public.
The basic difference between TENS and EMS lies in the two words: Nerve and Muscle.
TENS, as you’ve seen earlier, mimics pain nervous signal to help with two things: close the gate and release endorphin.
EMS, on the other hand, stimulates muscle by mimicking the action potential (sort of like the stretch and compress action) in the muscle to help it recover, grow, and become more toned.
So, this is why:
TENS is used to relieve acute or chronic pain like carpel tunnel, arthritis or pain caused by prior injury.
EMS, in contrast, is more widely used to help muscle growth and recovery. Athletes use it in training to relieve muscle spasms. And in physical therapy sessions, doctors use EMS to help patients with paralytic areas like the arms or the legs.
Do TENS Units Kill Cells?
When some folks hear about electrical pulses or shock stuff, they tend to get very worried about the side effects. In fact, folks who are not very familiar with TENS usually ask this question or something similar to it: Do TENS units kill my cells?
From our perspective, the reason for their concern may be coming from not being fully informed of how TENS unit works. When we understand a bit of how TENS work, we think the answer to the above question is clear: No.
According to WebMD, TENS units send out very low frequency and gentle impulses. It’s that sort of electrical pulse that you may feel when touching a wool sweater or a balloon rubbed against your hair. It’s very gentle and can never be fatal.
In fact, the FDA has carried out hundreds of tests before approving this device to ensure its ultimate safety and effectiveness.
Many athletes and patients suffering from chronic pain have used this device and are using it. So, you can be more assured that this clinically proven device is a natural, drug-free therapy that can help reduce pain with no side effects.
If you’d like a little more evidence, TENS therapy in fact has been used since the 18th and 19th century. A more thorough research on your favorite search engine will reveal the same fact.
5 Simple Steps to Choose the Right TENS Unit for You
Now that you’ve understood what a TENS unit is and its benefits, you’ll learn here 5 simple steps to help you choose the right TENS unit that best fits your needs and budget. So, let’s see the steps below:
Step 1: List out your specific needs
Are you struggling with back pain, neck pain, knee pain or some other kind of pain? The first useful step in determining which TENS unit is right for you is first to list out your needs.
This is common sense, you see. You should understand what you need first so you can choose the most suitable fit.
Let’s take some examples so you can easier understand:
Some folks need their TENS device to be rechargeable, so they don’t have to order battery packs every now and then. Which would mean they can’t use the device for the time it’s out of juice.
Like you’ve seen, TENS units come with sticky pads. And the number of pads will be different depending on the models: 2, 4, 6, or more.
Some folks just need 2 pads so they can concentrate the therapy on certain regions. Others want more pads so they can simultaneously use TENS on their arms, legs, or back.
So, you should certainly put these factors into consideration.
Step 2: Set your budget
The price range for TENS units on the market today is from $20 to over $100. Obviously, with higher price comes more features and functionalities. But for you, the user, it’s smart to set up your budget first. Because you wouldn’t want a or another debt on your credit card.
Let’s say we set our budget to $30 max, for example. Then you do a quick search on Amazon, Walmart, or Target for TENS units that are up to $30. You can narrow your list down to 5 products at this point.
Step 3: Pick your top 2 or 3
From the shortlist above, pick your top 2 or 3. We understand it can be really difficult to choose since the brands and products are quite similar and always strive for your satisfaction.
However, here are several tips you can keep in mind when narrowing down the list:
What are other customers saying?
Do the features meet your needs listed in Step 1?
Is it a good value for your money?
When you’re ready, we’ll move on to Step 4.
Step 4: Research your top picks
Okay, so now you have your top favorites. What you can do now is to analyze these products and companies further. Several factors to look for are:
Are other customers generally pleased or displeased?
How do the companies respond and solve 1-star reviews?
Have you talked to their customer service to see how responsive or helpful they are?
Is there money-back guarantee option?
Did you check YouTube for any customer reviews videos?
What are others saying about this TENS unit on forums?
When you feel like you’ve got a good amount of information, you can move on to the final step.
Step 5: It’s time to choose
After going through each step above, which one TENS unit best fits your needs and budget? Which one stands out most from the list for you? You can now make the decision and try a TENS unit out for yourself.
How to Use a TENS Unit?
After you’ve got yourself a TENS unit, it’s very important that you use it in the safest and most effective way. In this last section, we’ll show you exactly how to use a TENS unit safely and effectively.
Keep in mind though, these are instructional steps and not meant to be representative of your physical therapist or doctor’s instructions. You may want to consult your doctor if you’re experiencing any severe pain before using. So, with that in mind, let’s begin.
Before the application
You should feel relaxed before applying the TENS unit. Take a couple of deep breaths to relax all your muscles and especially the area where you’re feeling pain.
You should also check the battery level on your device. Make sure any electrical knobs or buttons are reset in their starting positions. This is to prevent any unwanted electrical discharge.
You can rub your skin with some rubbing alcohol to wipe off any dead skin cells.
See below for where you should place your electrodes:
There are several options to place the electrodes on the skin surface: you can apply some gel on the bottom of the pad then place them on your skin.
There are also re-usable self-adhesive pads which you can place on the painful area directly without needing to apply any gel. Another option many folks use is placing a thin layer of medical tape over the electrodes, so they stay in place during the application.
Also, make sure to place the electrodes correctly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Some 4-pad electrodes should be placed cross over each other, like an X.
Now, you can slowly turn on the setting. Depending on the level of your pain, you can adjust the frequency that would best treat it. You may get a tingling feeling at this point. Remember to time the therapy, so you don’t go overboard.
When you’re done, slowly turn off the device and remove the pads.
After the application
At this point, you can wash your skin to remove any gel residue. You can also clean the electrodes with some soap and water for next use. It’s also a good idea to recharge your battery so your device is ready for your next treatment.
Watch video: How to Use a TENS Unit
So, after reading the post, you see, choosing and using a TENS device is not that complicated at all. Remember: this small device works by closing the gates pain signal is travelling to the brain and helping release that feel-good chemical endorphin. And yes, you can be sure that TENS units do not kill your cells. They have been FDA approved and many customers are in fact using them daily.
To choose the right TENS unit, you can try 5 simple steps: list out your needs, set a budget, choose 5 products, pick out top 2 or 3, and finally choose the winner. When using a TENS unit, always check its battery level first and the control settings. Place the electrodes on areas where you feel the pain. After the treatment, you can wash your skin and recharge the battery for the next treatments.
Hopefully, this guide has been of help. If you’re unsure of any technical aspects, consult your doctor or physical therapist for further information and the best advice for your pain.