According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 10 adults suffer from pain that lasts a year or more with lower back pain being among one of the most common complaints. Typically, pain is what causes patients to seek out medical care initially, and in the chain of care, hopefully a patient may encounter a physical therapist. As a practicing physical therapist in Chicago, I am always trying to have my clients become as comfortable and pain free as possible. We know that the sooner we can decrease a patient’s pain, the sooner we can begin work on the cause of the pain and correct the biomechanical issues that may have caused the pain. TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, has been used by physical therapists since the 1980s to achieve the goal of pain relief whether their patients have acute pain or are trying to reduce chronic pain.
After surgery or an injury, physical therapists often use a TENS machine because the patient is suffering from acute pain. We define “acute” pain as pain that has been around for less than 6 weeks. Anelectrotherapy or TENS unit can greatly reduce the use of prescription drugs and over the counter products during this recovery period. In some cases, the side effects of the drugs can be worse than the pain that is relieved. A TENS therapy treatment allows the patient time to clear the surgical anesthesia drugs from their system, without adding more drugs to the mix while still getting the needed pain relief. In many cases, the sooner the physical therapist can restore normal pain free movement the quicker the recovery for the patient.
When a patient has chronic pain, a TENS machine is very useful and safe. A typical physical therapist defines “chronic” pain as pain that has lasted longer than 6 weeks. Unfortunately, patients that have some pain for an extended period of time also suffer from general fatigue due to the constant and prolonged pain. A TENS machine allows a chronic pain patient to get a reduction in the severity of the pain and a much needed break from the constant pounding pain. What’s great about TENS is that the pain relief is delivered without the use of drugs, and thus helps prevent drug addiction or possible drug side effects. Often times, patients with chronic pain need to use a TENS unit somewhat regularly at home or at the office in order to keep up with life’s daily activities. If this is your situation, I recommend buying a portable TENS unit because it is small, fits into your pocket, and is as subtle as possible when used in public. Very importantly, TENS therapy is also a safer option vs. prescription pain medication. TENS is 100% drug-free and thus it’s safe for you to operate heavy machinery or drive after a TENS treatment. Driving or operating machinery is not advisable if you are taking prescription pain medication.
The public accessibility of TENS machines will help many people finally get back pain relief, or help with their post-surgical or chronic daily muscle or joint pain, without having to go to the doctor to get a prescription. If you have muscle or joint pain, learn about your non-surgical options here.
By Bill Love, Physical Therapist (P.T.), M.P.T.