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What are TENS Pads?

Archana Khambekar
Archana Khambekar

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) method is sometimes used for pain management. Treatment is usually administered with a TENS unit that transmits mild electrical impulses to areas that hurt. TENS pads are adhesive electrodes attached to the skin that pass on electrical impulses to the underlying nerves. The device is often battery-powered, compact, and suitable for treatment in a health facility or at home. This therapy is generally regarded as low-risk and could help alleviate pain following an accident or in long–term conditions such as arthritis.

The device typically includes a small-sized machine or a stimulator with controls to regulate the flow and intensity of the electrical current. The unit is connected by wires to foam, rubber, or cloth-backed electrode pads. The wires convey electrical impulses from the unit to the TENS pads affixed to areas where a patient feels pain. A conductive gel may be spread on the electrodes, which are then positioned on the skin. The impulses are transmitted to the nerve fibers underlying the skin and thereby to the brain.

TENS pads adhere to the skin like bandages and have electrodes attached.
TENS pads adhere to the skin like bandages and have electrodes attached.

When the unit is switched on, a low-voltage current is typically conveyed and a buzzing sensation is felt in the area where the pads are placed. TENS therapy can ease pain in several different ways. Transmission of normal pain signals may be impeded, and one might simply experience a tingling at the site instead. Another explanation could be that electrical stimulation of the nerves enhances the level of endorphins, the pain relievers supplied by the brain.

TENS therapy can be incorporated in acupuncture. In this form of treatment, TENS pads are usually placed directly on the acupuncture points. A device known as an electrical muscle stimulation (EMS) machine is sometimes used for muscle training and rehabilitation. An EMS unit is a variation of the TENS device. An EMS machine sends electrical impulses to the muscles.

Generally, a doctor or health practitioner can advise on a TENS course of treatment and the duration of therapy. Typically a doctor indicates the right location for the TENS pads, the current intensity, and steady flow or pulse mode setting for a patient. If necessary, the treatment may be continued at home after initial guidance from a practitioner.

The TENS method might be recommended for managing pain that lasts for a limited period such as post surgery or after an accident. It could help those with chronic muscular pain, or in conditions such as arthritis or sciatica. A TENS device may be used to ease labor pains.

The efficacy of treatment can vary. In some, the pain is alleviated for a short duration while others may feel the positive effect for a longer period of time. TENS therapy could be suggested as an adjunct to other pain management treatments. A prescription is often needed for insurance reimbursement of this treatment.

Some may experience adverse effects such as skin irritation or an allergic reaction from TENS treatment. One could put the TENS pads in a slightly different spot during subsequent sessions to prevent redness. In case of an allergic reaction to the adhesive or electrodes, changing these accessories may help.

TENS therapy might not be safe for some patients. These include pregnant women and people who have pacemakers. Placing TENS pads over the eyes, head, or neck could pose a risk so generally these areas should be avoided.

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    • TENS pads adhere to the skin like bandages and have electrodes attached.
      By: Albert Lozano-Nieto
      TENS pads adhere to the skin like bandages and have electrodes attached.