What is TENS-Therapy?
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, more commonly referred to as TENS (or sometimes TeNS), is defined by the American Physical Therapy Association as application of electrical current through the skin for pain control (APTA, 1990). The unit is usually connected to the skin using two or more electrodes. A typical battery-operated TENS unit is able to modulate pulse width, frequency and intensity. Generally TENS is applied at high frequency (>50 Hz) with an intensity below motor contraction (sensory intensity) or low frequency (<10 Hz) with an intensity that produces motor contraction (Robinson and Snyder-Mackler, 2008).
TENS is a non-invasive, very safe method to reduce pain, both acute and chronic. While controversy exists as to its effectiveness in the treatment of chronic pain, a number of systematic reviews or meta-analyses have confirmed its effectiveness for postoperative pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic musculoskeletal pain. Conversely, results from the Bone and Joint Decade 2000 - 2010 Task Force on Neck Pain accumulated data showing no clinically significant benefit to TENS for the treatment of neck pain when compared to sham treatment. Recent clinical studies and meta-analysis suggest that using adequate intensity of stimulation is necessary to obtain analgesia with TENS.
Basic science studies show that high and low frequency TENS produce their effects by activation of opioid receptors in the central nervous system. Specifically, high frequency TENS activates delta-opioid receptors both in the spinal cord and supraspinally (in the medulla) while low frequency TENS activates mu-opioid receptors both in the spinal cord and supraspinally. Further high frequency TENS reduces excitation of central neurons that transmit nociceptive information, reduces release of excitatory neurotransmitters (glutamate) and increases the release of inhibitory neurotransmitters (GABA) in the spinal cord, and activates muscarinic receptors centrally to produce analgesia (in effect, temporarily blocking the pain gate). Low frequency TENS also releases serotonin and activates serotonin receptors in the spinal cord, releases GABA, and activates muscarinic receptors to reduce excitability of nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord.
In palliative care and pain medicine, TENS units are used in an attempt to alleviate neuropathic pain (pain due to nerve damage). Some patients benefit from this approach, while others may not, depending on individual differences, and pain threshold.Further use is documented in the attached references: in obstetric care, particularly in labour;knee pain; lithotripsy or bladder-stone removal; limb pain.
TENS units are also used by the BDSM community for erotic play involving electrical stimulation. See also Erotic electrostimulation.
There are 2 basic types of unit available on the market: a simplified version is marketed to consumers, typically offering LCD screens and digital control with a range of preset programmes; the more complex units are intended for use by healthcare professionals. The professional version - which may be controlled by digital or analogue means - have no presets but allow frequency and pulse width settings to be varied to suit the patient. Some hybrid models are now in production which combine a range of presets with the ability for the customer to experiment with their own settings.
Electrical stimulation for pain control was used in ancient Greece, 63 A.D. It was reported by Scribonius Largus that pain was relieved by standing on an electrical fish at the seashore. In the 16th through the 18th century various electrostatic devices were used for headache and other pains. Benjamin Franklin was a proponent of this method for pain relief. In the 1900s a device called the electreat, along with numerous other devices were used for pain control and cancer cures. Only the electreat survived into the twentieth century, but was not portable, and had limited control of the stimulus.
The first modern, patient-wearable TENS was patented in the U.S.A. on June 18, 1974 (U.S. Patent 3,817,254). It was initially used for testing the tolerance of chronic pain patients to electrical stimulation before implantation of electrodes in the spinal cord dorsal column. The electrodes were attached to an implanted receiver, which received its power from an antenna worn on the surface of the skin. Although intended only for testing tolerance to electrical stimulation, many of the patients got so much relief from the TENS itself that they never returned for the implant.
A number of companies manufacturing TENS appeared after the commercial success of the Medtronic device became known.The neurological division of Medtronic, founded by Don Maurer, Ed Schuck and Dr. Charles Ray, developed a number of applications for implanted electrical stimulation devices for treatment of epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and other disorders of the nervous system. Maurer founded Empi, Inc. in 1977, and in the late 1980s purchased the TENS product line from Medtronic. Today many people confuse TENS with EMS. EMS and TENS devices look similar and both use long electric lead wires and electrodes. TENS is for blocking pain, where EMS is for stimulating the muscle.
TENS electrodes should never be placed:
- On or near the eyes
- In the mouth
- Transcerebrally (on each temple)
- On the front of the neck (due to the risk of acute hypotension through a vasovagal reflex)
- On areas of numb skin/decreased sensation
- On broken skin areas or wounds
- On or near the trigeminal nerve if you have a history of herpes zoster induced trigeminal neuralgia (Postherpetic neuralgia)
TENS should also be used with caution in people with epilepsy or pregnant women (do not use over area of the uterus as the effects of electrical stimulation over the developing fetus are not known). TENS should not be used by people with an artificial cardiac pacemaker due to risk of interference and failure of their implanted device. Possible failure of these warnings can result in a cardiac arrhythmia.
Pain in general, is necessary to survive, because it is a warning and protection system for the body in general to prevent the human organism of harm and serious damage.Above that we have the sensation of pain to be the worst an most uncomfortable perception of the body.
Pain is a part of us
Pain is a very subjective phenomenon an can´t be measured in a certain measurement. Anyone feels pain different. Feeling pain depends on the time of the day and the individual bio-rhythm. In the evening and night it normally is getting worse. Pain has different faces: it can be cutting, knocking, itching, but also pressing, dull, paralizing und nerve killing. It can rise up out of a sudden, but also occur periodic or again and again.
TENS works invisible
Areas of the locomotive system can be threat by a lot of different methods. The electrical transcutaneous nerve stimulation (TENS) stands for transcutaneous , that mean via the skin, electrical nerve stimulation. So the pain can´t be felt anymore. It is the so called „electro-analgesic“ (= pain-reduction). By the use of cyclic and duration TENS-treatments the human body can produce specific hormones, to eliminate the unbearable pain of the patients immensely without side effects.
It sounds like magic – but in reality it is our own body, who eliminates the pain. Our body is just producing a antagonist for the stimulus in form of electrical provocation, which is created through the TENS-programme of the Bio Wave 21 LCD before. This is working according the simple pattern of “stimulus“– “bodily response”“, in that case “stimulus” means: electrical impulse and “bodily response” means: hormone.
Individual therapy possible
The duration of the application is about 20 minutes, but can be exceeded to hours. The intensity can be set on the device itself. The range is from a comfortable tingle
up to the individual pain threshold. In following cases the TENS-therapy may be useful:
- muscular pain
- blunt- and phantom pains
- pains in connection with cancer diseases and disorders in blood circulation
- acute pain (e. g. in the neck area)
- after accidents and injuries with haematomas
Hormones such as: edorphine, bradikinine, serotonine and histamin (all somatic pain analgesics) are produced by the body throughout TENS-stimulation. The effect is a very relaxed somaesthesia. At the same time the pain transmission through the nerve fibres is inhibited and the local blood circulation is innervated. The patient just senses a little relaxing tingle on the flexible electrodes meanwhile using the TENS.
As pain therapeutical remedy the TENS-method is known since 1982. Patients with chronical or periodical pains can use the TENS-method due to therapeutical advise comfortably in home therapy.