If you have arthritis, can TENS therapy help?

Here’s some expert advice.

There are many arthritic diseases, which cause non-inflammatory or inflammatory joint pain. Osteoarthritis causes degeneration of one or more joints, while rheumatoid arthritis can be experienced in many regions of the body. Either variety is a common cause of joint and muscular pain, stiffness and limitation of mobility that can interfere with the normal basic activities of daily living (ADLs). Many people with arthritis tend to take medication which can cause dependency and side-effects. If you are concerned about taking too much medicine, you should consider TENS therapy. TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation therapy, can help to control arthritis pain without the use of additional drugs as well as reduce the amount of medication and related side-effects.

Advice on how to use TENS for arthritisarthritis

If your arthritic pain is confined to a single region, a TENS unit may help reduce your pain. Just place the electrode pads above and below or parallel to the involved joint.

If your arthritic pain is in multiple areas, such as from rheumatoid arthritis, I recommend pad placements in this order. First apply the pads to the most painful region, followed by other areas as needed.

If you have arthritic pain at the hip or knee, it is also possible that TENS applied to the low back can decrease pain. This occurs because the nerve supply to those joints originates from the lumbar spine.

If you are active and have arthritis in the knee, you can improve mobility during and immediately after a TENS therapy session. The American College of Rheumatology recommends patient instruction in the use of TENS as a non-pharmacologic (non-drug) therapy in the presence of moderate to severe osteoarthritis of the knee. However, it is very important for your medical professional to provide proper guidelines so that you don’t engage in physical activity that can result in further degeneration of the joint or overuse of the surrounding musculature.

If you have constant arthritic pain, I recommend keeping the pads attached to the painful region and activating the TENS device on and off as necessary. You can use it safely 30 minutes at a time for up to 3 times each day.

When seeking a TENS therapy unit, you should find one that has both high and low pulse-rate (pulses per second) components. Research has shown that both are helpful in decreasing the discomfort of osteoarthritis.