What is a TENS System?

Katriena Knights

A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (TENS) system can be used for various purposes, but one of the most common is for pain control. TENS units can produce significant relief for those suffering from chronic pain. The TENS electrodes are placed at specific areas on the skin; electrical pulses then are transmitted through the unit. In cases of pain management, it is theorized that the electrical stimuli from the TENS system short-circuits the electrical signals sent by the nerves of the body, in effect short-circuiting the pain signals. An alternate theory is that it helps stimulate the production of endorphins.

A painful sports-related injury may require transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) therapy as well as a conventional physical therapy regimen.
A painful sports-related injury may require transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator (TENS) therapy as well as a conventional physical therapy regimen.

Another application for the TENS system is in treating temporomandibular disorder (TMD). The electric stimulation is used to completely relax the muscles of the jaw, allowing them to settle into their natural alignment. Based on the relaxed position of the jawbone, a dentist who specializes in treating this type of jaw misalignment can develop an individualized course of treatment. Treatments for TMD include orthotics, veneers, dental bonding, traditional braces, or a combination of these approaches depending on individual needs.

A TENS device may be used by people with back pain for pain management.
A TENS device may be used by people with back pain for pain management.

Due to its compact size, the TENS unit is portable and can be worn for a period of time during normal daily activity if necessary. The device can be turned on or off depending on the need of the patient for pain control. Providing the patient with control over pain treatment can be a great help in improving quality of life. The patient, with assistance from a doctor or physical therapist, can determine how often the unit is used as well as what voltage level is most effective.

A TENS system can help dentists correct TMD.
A TENS system can help dentists correct TMD.

Physical therapists also make use of the TENS system to help treat certain conditions. In conjunction with physical therapy, electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) can help relax the muscle spasms that cause certain kinds of lower back pain. While a TENS system alone generally is not recommended for long-term treatment, it can be helpful as a part of a varied course of treatment that also includes targeted exercise and other treatment modalities.

A TENS system can be used in conjunction with other treatment modalities to relax muscle spasms.
A TENS system can be used in conjunction with other treatment modalities to relax muscle spasms.

A TENS system typically must be obtained with a prescription and should be used under the guidance of a physical therapist or other medical professional. Guidance from a physician can help a patient place the electrodes properly to ensure that the patient receives the maximum benefit. A physician also can help determine how often the system should be used, and at what voltage.

A TENS system may be prescribed for some people to help combat chronic pain.
A TENS system may be prescribed for some people to help combat chronic pain.
People who experience chronic back pain as a result of working a physically demanding job may benefit from TENS Therapy.
People who experience chronic back pain as a result of working a physically demanding job may benefit from TENS Therapy.

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