Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation
TENS for the treatment of chronic pain
How can you tell that therapies are legitimate even when the reason they work isn't completely clear? The answer is found in the claims advocates make on behalf of them.
With many alternative therapies, practitioners develop convoluted philosophical and spiritual explanations for why they think it's effective. In the case of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), however, advocates of the therapy admit that its mode of operation is still uncertain. They postulate theories and develop scientific protocols to test those theories. But they don't make up fanciful myths about "spiritual energies" and "life force balance." Instead, they say, "We don't know why this works, but one theory is X, Y and Z."
One thing from the online literature seems to be clear: TENS has found mainstream acceptance with most of the medical community. Much like ultrasound therapy, it has been investigated using rigorous scientific methods. Why has it gained this level of recognition, despite the question marks about how it works? Because it's effective. According to TENS advocates, 70 percent or more of patients experience pain relief from this therapy, at least initially.
TENS uses an electrical current to manage chronic or acute pain. It's hypothesized that the equipment stimulates the body to enhance its own natural pain-control mechanisms, giving relief and control of pain in the body. In the most common method, electrodes are placed on the site of the pain, with a contact gel for adhesion and to improve conductivity. The electrodes are attached to a portable device that includes a battery and an electric generator. The device is turned on whenever pain presents itself. It's set at a high frequency but a low intensity; this is well-tolerated by most people. The machine remains on until the pain disappears.
TENS isn't just used for chronic pain. It can also be used in acute conditions such as post-operative pain and sports injuries, and in the treatment of ischemic ulcers. It's non-invasive, safe and easy to use, with no lasting effects. Pregnant women at times use TENS in labor to help with pain control. The only population that is routinely contraindicated is people with pacemakers - the current from the TENS device can interfere with the heart machine.