All You Need To Know About the TENS Unit Benefits
If you’re interested in the world of massage and therapy, the chances are that you’ve heard of the TENS unit.
But, how much do you know about this particular device? And, why do people use it?
If you’re looking for answers to these questions, you’ve come to the right place. In today’s article, you can learn all about the TENS unit benefits, as well as some useful tips and general information about this method.
Read on, and join the pain-free train!
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- What is a TENS unit?
- The medical benefits of TENS
- 1. It may help with pain reduction
- 2. It may reduce migraines and headaches
- 3. It may reduce post-surgery pain
- 4. It may help with depression
- 5. It may suppress Parkinson’s disease symptoms
- 6. It may promote cardiovascular health
- 7. It may improve athletic performance
- 8. It may improve lung function
- 9. It may improve the sensation for those with prosthetic limbs
- 10. It may help with bed-wetting
- 11. It may reduce menstrual cramps
- 12. It may help with stroke recovery
- The limitations of TENS studies
- Side effects
- Who shouldn’t use TENS?
What is a TENS unit?
The term TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, and simply speaking, it is a safe and cheap method of nerve stimulation via the skin through the use of electricity.
This device is very versatile as you can apply it to almost any nerve in your body. It’s mainly used for chronic pain reduction, but it can also help with conditions like depression or even for athletic performance enhancement.
This method is still somewhat new, so it’s full implications are yet to be discovered. Studies have shown that TENS isn’t always effective and that it has quite a bit of inconsistency.
Some scientists suggest that the placebo effect is one potential reason that TENS works with certain individuals, so when learning about this method, having a dose of skepticism would be encouraged.
The medical benefits of TENS
1. It may help with pain reduction
There were several studies conducted which found out that the TENS unit may have a significant impact on reducing people’s pain, and in this section, I’m going to mention a few of them.
An observational study done on 33 individuals with chronic back pain concluded that 13 of them had a significant pain reduction within an hour of applying the device to their bodies.
Another, more extensive study of people suffering from hemiplegia found out that 90 individuals felt better from TENS therapy.
Besides chronic pain, one study found that TENS helped reduce pain in dental procedures (cavity filling) with the success rate of 80%, which is astounding.
As you can see from the abovementioned, there is definitely something to this method, and there are a couple more studies that reached similar conclusions.
2. It may reduce migraines and headaches
One study which included 110 migraine patients concluded that, when applied at the occipital nerve, TENS can decrease the duration of headaches. In addition, there were no significant side-effects so many individuals chose TENS over their usual medication for future treatment.
Also, a study similar to the previous one discovered that the intensity, as well as the frequency of headaches, was reduced in 57 people.
The most significant discovery related to this medical problem reached the conclusion that TENS reduced the number of days with headaches, and 66% of the people tested decided to continue using it as one of their main treatment methods.
3. It may reduce post-surgery pain
A large study conducted on more than 1300 patients uncovered that patients who used a TENS unit post-surgery required less pain-relieving medications.
There is a cluster of smaller studies of around 50 people or so, which all reached similar conclusions. No matter the kind of surgery, patients who applied the TENS device on their bodies had felt a reduction in the intensity of the pain and took fewer pain killers.
However, it’s not all so perfect. A study which included 45 patients who underwent pulmonary artery surgery claims that TENS didn’t have any major pain-lowering effects.
The reasons for this is unclear, but it could mean that even the slightest difference in TENS procedures might have a big difference in its effectiveness.
4. It may help with depression
The main player in this story is the vagus nerve, known for its effect on the brain as well as the gut. TENS units are used for a technique called Transcutaneous Vagus Nerve Stimulation.
There has been a number of studies which all concluded that TVNS fights depression by stimulating certain areas of the brain, namely ones associated with motivation and rewards.
This eventually leads to genuine and measurable improvements in people’s mood and lowers the number of depression symptoms.
5. It may suppress Parkinson’s disease symptoms
A common symptom of Parkinson’s disease is uncontrollable shaking, and according to some studies, when TENS units were applied to patients arms, the shaking was reduced by a whopping 60%.
Besides shaking, Parkinson’s disease also makes walking difficult, a condition known as frozen gait. This too might be relieved by using a TENS unit, and 12% of the people tested significantly increased their walking time.
6. It may promote cardiovascular health
In order to placebo-proof their study, researchers tested a group of young men on several occasions by using both real and fake TENS methods. The fake TENS did not show any changes in the cardiovascular health parameters of these men.
However, the real one showed an improvement in blood pressure regulation and an increase in resting heart beats. In the case of this study, it’s important to note that all of the individuals were healthy.
Now, when it comes to people who had pulmonary artery bypass surgeries, a study conducted on 45 patients did not reduce their chance of future heart problems.
7. It may improve athletic performance
In a study conducted on 18 male and 22 female athletes, researchers found out that using TENS units during stretches reduced the athletes’ muscle pain and improved their ranges of motion.
The same research concluded that there were cases of increased endurance and reduced pain during exercise.
Now, another study which was performed on 13 recreational cyclists did not find that TENS relieved or diminished any of their exercise-related pain. Also, there were no apparent improvements in their performances either.
8. It may improve lung function
Fifty patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease were treated with TENS every two days for four weeks. The results showed that the amount of air they can hold in their lungs increased, and some of the other symptoms were also diminished.
There were several other studies which found that TENS may improve the breathing of COPD patients during physical exercise.
9. It may improve the sensation for those with prosthetic limbs
There’s an interesting phenomenon that occurs with folks who lost one of their limbs. Often, many of these people continue to feel the missing body part as if it’s still there, and this sensation is known as the phantom limb.
Interested in helping these people out, some scientist started looking for ways to give back the sensation to people who have a prosthetic limb.
Some of them came to the idea of using TENS as kind of a bridge between the prosthetics and people’s body, which if successful, will be a major breakthrough in modern medicine.
10. It may help with bed-wetting
A condition known as overactive bladder syndrome causes some adults to urinate in their sleep.
A study done on 42 OBS patients who used TENS to try to diminish their symptoms, found that half of them had improved their condition significantly. A surprising 39% said that they completely cured their uncontrolled urination.
Now, another research conducted on kids with bed-wetting problems found that, after 10 weeks of TENS use, there were no improvements.
11. It may reduce menstrual cramps
Menstrual cramps vary in intensity, and some women experience very strong pains during this time of the month. To study this, researchers tested 40 women and discovered that TENS had a significant effect on reducing the intensity of their pain.
The individuals who were tested carried portable TENS units wherever they went as this was the best way to keep the treatment effective. Many of them said that their quality of life had greatly improved due to the therapy.
Another study reached the conclusion that TENS units may reduce the pain associated with childbirth — the pregnant women who used TENS before labor experienced much less pain than those who didn’t. The therapy may also help with post-labor pain.
12. It may help with stroke recovery
As you probably know, a stroke is a very serious condition which leaves many people partially disabled, often for the rest of their lives. Stroke damages the brain and commonly causes problems with walking and moving in general.
A study which included 14 stroke patients found that, when they combined TENS therapy with appropriate exercise, their ability to move and maintain balance was significantly improved. The improvements were much greater than those brought on by exercise alone.
Another study done on 34 stroke patients who used TENS and exercise for 6 weeks concluded that the people’s walking ability, balance got much better, and their spasms reduced as well.
The limitations of TENS studies
Like I’ve already mentioned, all of the benefits listed above may or may not apply to you or any other person who wishes to try this method out. As of now, researchers just don’t have enough reliable information that would allow them to draw concrete conclusions.
One of the reasons for this is that TENS units are often administered by patients at their homes, and not in a controlled and supervised medical environments.
This means that we cannot know how closely the patients followed the instructions that were given to them, so this might create a lot of inconsistency.
Also, pain reduction is cited as one of the biggest benefits of TENS therapy. However, pain is largely subjective, and it is complicated to quantify it, and thus measure it.
The last problem with TENS research is the unknown impact of the placebo effect. Many of the early studies were not placebo-proofed, so we cannot rely on their results very much.
Some studies which did have placebo groups claim that there were no significant differences in the effects between the placebo group and the groups which received TENS treatment.
So far, there were almost no patients who reported any significant side-effects of TENS therapy.
The only undesirable effect that a small number of people experienced was irritation on parts of the skin where the electrodes were placed. Also, some said that they felt pain upon removing the pads.
Who shouldn’t use TENS?
Even though TENS units are safe to use for the vast majority of people, they should never be applied without consulting one’s doctor. Besides this, there are certain groups of people who might not want to use TENS at all.
- Individuals with heart problems.
- Those who have a pacemaker or some other electrical (or metal) implant.
- Pregnant women shouldn’t use TENS in the pelvic and abdominal regions.
- People with epilepsy should never apply TENS on their head or neck as this could cause seizures.
TENS unit, albeit a very young treatment method, shows a lot of potential for improvement and broader use in the future. Nobody can deny the positive results that patients claim to have experienced, and this proves that electrical stimulation through the skin can do our bodies some good.
Again, it can’t be overstated that there are many impairments in the way TENS unit research is conducted so their conclusions should not be viewed as absolute truth.
However, I don’t wish to discourage you from trying out TENS for yourself; quite the contrary. I am a firm believer in testing things out on one’s own skin and then seeing what works and what doesn’t.
The most important thing about TENS is that it is safe and affordable, so you won’t have to think long before deciding if you want to give it a go.