31. May 2021

physiotherapists using tens machine: is it safe and effective?

Before we delve into if it’s safe or even effective for physios using TENS machines. Let’s tackle the basics first.

What does the acronym TENS stand for?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Yes, I’m with you. TENS is much easier! So we’ll keep it simple and refer to it as a TENS machine or unit throughout this article.

We’ll discover how it works, what it’s used for and most importantly if physios using TENS machines will be a safe and effective physiotherapy treatment.

What is a TENS machine and how does it work?

Now that we know what TENS stands for, we need to know what it is and what it does.

Definition of TENS: transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. electrical stimulation of the skin to relieve pain by interfering with the neural transmission of signals from underlying pain receptors

(Definition of TENS by Merriam-Webster).

A TENS machine is a non-invasive device that sends electric currents to targeted areas of your body to relieve pain.

The electrical pulse is delivered via sticky pads (called electrodes) placed on your skin, with leads directly connected to the device.

When the TENS unit is switched on, you may feel a slight tingling sensation as the current is discharged.

Used to intercept or reduce pain signals travelling between your brain and spinal cord, the current is designed to relax your muscles and stimulate endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers).

This all sounds brilliant but how do physios use TENS machines and what specifically can it be used for?

What can a TENS machine be used for?

TENS can be used to reduce pain and muscle spasms of specific symptoms, conditions, injuries and ailments.

Symptoms TENS can treat:

  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Joint pain
  • Period pain
  • Labour pain
  • Post-operative pain

Conditions TENS can treat:

  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Gout
  • Tendonitis
  • Sport injuries
  • Endometriosis
  • Sciatica
  • Fibromyalgia

TENS machines have controls that allow the correct level of pain relief to be administered. For each symptom, condition or injury, varying levels of intensity, frequency and duration will be used to achieve this.

Do TENS machines really work?

Benjamin Franklin was an advocate for electrostatic pain relief methods!

(Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation - Wikipedia)

As early as AD 63 in Ancient Rome, electrical stimulation was used for pain control. Obviously, for Benjamin Franklin, during the 18th century, electrostatic devices were not as refined as the modern-day TENS machine (mainly accredited to DR C Norman Shealy). Yet it shows that the use of this method has been revered for many years.

Clinical trials for TENS are ongoing and unfortunately, no conclusive evidence has been recorded regarding the effectiveness and reliability of using it as a method of pain relief.

However, most studies focus on those who suffer from chronic pain. Plus, the variables and selection criteria are extremely hard to balance. This is because each individual has varying pain thresholds and sensitivity to stimulation.

CK Physiotherapists and healthcare professionals alike have reported the positive effects it has had on their patients. The fact that it is a safe method of delivering pain relief without the need for medical intervention is also extremely appealing.

TENS physiotherapy treatment isn’t a cure for pain but can act as short-term relief. But if teamed with other recommended physiotherapy techniques and approaches, the combination can bring much-welcomed relief, repair and rehabilitation.

Are there any side effects of using a TENS machine?

TENS physiotherapy is considered safe, yet there are some minor exceptions you should know about. Certain conditions may also prohibit the use of a TENS machine.

  • Sensitivity to current - causing a burning or irritation to the skin
  • Skin allergies - reaction to the electrode pads and gel used with the machine

When can’t you use a TENS Machine for a patient?

You are unable to use TENS with the following unless you have been assessed by a GP or healthcare professional:

  • Pregnancy - in early stages, abdominal and pelvic area
  • Epileptic - may induce seizures
  • Heart problems - can cause irregularity
  • Pacemaker - or similar electrical/metal implant
  • Never use TENS Machine treatment on the following:
  • Neck
  • Temples
  • Mouth
  • Eyes
  • Chest and upper back (at the same time)
  • Infected/irritated/broken skins
  • Varicose veins
  • Areas of numbness

How long does the pain relief last from TENS?

As we mentioned earlier, pain perception and tolerance are unique to the individual as is their specified condition.

Using TENS physiotherapy treatment, for some, effects may wear off as soon as the machine has stopped delivering the current.

Others report noticing remarkable and long-lasting benefits after their first session. Yet some patients document evident relief after a few sessions into their treatment.

There’s no hard or fast rule of pain relief with physios using TENS for patient treatment. It may work straight away, which is fantastic! But there may be instances where benefits are slow coming and perseverance needed.

Talking at length with your physiotherapist about your condition and history will help you to get a clearer idea of what level of TENS treatment you may require and the benefits it may deliver.

Talk to us first

At CK Physio, we want to see you at your best and quickly, and we use advanced TENS machines that provide effective pain relief when you need it.

TENS is a safe, non-invasive, drug-free alternative for pain treatment that can be used for a multitude of conditions.

Book a virtual consultation today, via the online registration form, to speak with one of our experienced physiotherapists. Explore the possibilities of what using a TENS machine could do for you.

You will be able to discuss any questions or concerns you have and a dedicated physiotherapist will be able to assess if TENS machine physiotherapy is the right course of treatment for you.

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