What is TENS?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) uses a small battery operated unit to provide a non-invasive, drug free method of controlling acute pain. Mild electrical pulses are transmuted through the skin, via surface electrodes, to modify the body’s pain perception. TENS does not cure you from any medical conditions. It is merely used to alter the body’s perception of pain. TENS will not work for everyone but Physiotherapists and Doctors around the world prescribe TENS. If you have had children you may have come across it before, as TENS can be used to great effect during Labour. I actually used my TENS machine on my wife while she was in Labour and although I am not saying TENS did it all, she only used gas and air once fully dilated.

Anyway, enough of the birth stories. TENS does seem to work for most people that use it, however, you should discuss using TENS with your Doctor or Physio before using it.

There are millions of small nerve fibres throughout the body and it only requires a few impulses to produce chronic pain. In addition to small fibres, which allow the sensation of pain to be felt, the body is also made up of larger diameter nerve fibres. These larger nerve fibres transmit less unpleasant sensations such as touch or warmth, assisting us to form an impression of our environment. Stimulating the larger nerve fibres using TENS may have the effect of inhibiting the transition of pain along the smaller nerve fibres to the spinal chord, this is known as “Pain Gate Theory”

My experience

I have used TENS to great extent. I get the best results when I use it to treat pain caused by muscles being firm. I have experience with TENS quite a bit, over recent years and it has a firm place in my toolbox to deal with Fibromyalgia.

How I use it

Now before I go into this, I must say this is how I use TENS. ALWAYS read and follow the instructions provided with your machine and only use it after discussion with your doctor. The way I use TENS may not be the correct method and if you are considering using any of the methods I use, make sure you clear it with your doctor first.

Method 1) I locate the muscle causing me the pain. It is usually easy to find as it’s normally a lot firmer than the other muscles and a good poke and prod with my fingers will reveal which muscle is more sensitive than the others and more sensitive than it would normally be. I then place one electrode at one end of the muscle and the other at the other end. I send the current through the whole muscle, adjusting carefully, to get the best current that does not cause me any pain, or does not cause the muscle to spasm or twitch. I then play about with the program’s to get the one that feels best and I leave it to work for as long as possible.

Method 2) Again I locate the muscle causing the problem using the same method. I then pop the two pads onto the muscle and turn on the TENS machine, to find which of the electrode pads is the one that feels more overpowering than the other. I turn off the machine and I then look up, or find the “trigger points” for that muscle and put the more powerful electrode onto the trigger point. With the less powerful electrode I either place it on the furthest point away from the trigger point but on the same muscle, or at the end of the muscle nearest the centre of my body. Then I select the program that feels the best and I use it for as long as possible.

Method 3) This is the more complex method. I work out which muscle is causing the problem as before, but this time I try and work out where the nerves from that muscle run into the spinal chord. This is very hard to do, you can pick up decent diagrams here and there, to help but it is a lot of trial and error. I then place the electrodes along the spine, perpendicular to, and either side of the nerve entering the spinal cord. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t, sometimes I cover the space of about three vertebrae just to be sure.

Knowing which method to use and when, is trial and error. It’s your body and I’m sure I am going to repeat this all over the website, but one big key to living with Fibromyalgia is learning how your body works and how it responds to every little variable.

Frequently asked questions

Does it hurt?

Not if used properly. Most people will not feel a thing on the lower settings, you turn up the settings when you use it and you will start feeling a slight tingle, a stronger tingle etc etc as you turn up the settings. You can turn the settings to a painful level, however there is no reason to do this. You should not be able to do that, by accident either. If you turn it up and it suddenly becomes painful, you should be so familiar with the operation of the device, that you can instantly lower the setting, or stop the unit altogether.

Where can I buy the one you use?

As always I will try to link to products I have used, so you can click and buy from this site with ease. This is the version of the TENS machine I use. It has two “channels” meaning that you can treat two areas at once, or in the case of pain that is symmetrical, such as “lower back pain”, you can treat both sides of the back at the same time. This unit also has a variety of programs and functions. I find different settings are useful for different types of pain. This unit also comes with a good sturdy case for storing properly and transporting easily and comes with a set of 4 pads to get you started and a decent manual on the use of TENS. (which you need to read) It also has user created program features so you can take it to your physio and they can program it for you if this is something you need.

What other TENS Machines could you buy from the same Manufacturer?

What are the Cheaper Options?

Quite simply Lloyds Pharmacy offer their own cheaper units, click to browse their products.

Words of warning

TENS machines can make your muscles move on their own. Although it can be tempting to some people to play round with this function, don’t. It can cause permanent nerve damage, trust me!

Unless otherwise directed by a Doctor don’t use TENS with pacemakers, during pregnancy, with undiagnosed pain or with sensitive skin conditions. Do not use with reduced mental capacity, on anaesthetised or desensitised skin, when driving or operating machinery, on children, over the carotid sinus nerves, over larynx or trachea, inside the mouth, over your heart, on your face and not with any liquid of any kind.