Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulators (TENS) works by confusing your brain. When your body feels the slight, constant, and repetitive shocks, it automatically triggers your brain to produce endorphins. The endorphins cause a slight boost in “happiness” and also block some of the pain that you would otherwise feel in the area.
It sounds like a great hack, right?
If you cranked the voltage up high enough, these devices could be used to inflict serious pain! Thankfully, FDA regulations require these devices to follow strict regulations regarding maximum voltage and how much power they can send through your body. However, there is still some question about how much is considered “safe.”
Today, we’ll answer this question and go over how to tell if you need to take a break from TENS. Finally, we’ll also talk discuss how to get the most benefit out of TENS!
Can You Overuse A TENS Unit? Answered!
It’s safe to say that Americans are in pain. Recent statistics from the CDC state that just over 20% of people in the U.S. (over 50 million people) suffer from chronic pain.
Chronic pain is defined as: “pain that persists past the normal healing time.”
That means 1 out of every 5 people in the country suffer from pain that just doesn’t go away. Sometimes it’s the result of an old sports injury or repetitive motion at one’s job.
Other times, it’s caused by an underlying nervous system disorder such as fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome. Other common diseases and disorders such as diabetes or auto-immune diseases can also contribute to chronic pain.
TENS units have been around for quite some time. They have gained a lot of recognition for how well they’re able to treat pain. The best part about them is that they’re natural, don’t require addictive medication, and they’re affordable!
Simply hook the small adhesive electrodes up to your body (follow all safety instructions), set it to the desired intensity, and then go about your normal routine for 20 to 30 minutes and let the device do its job!
Clean the TENS pads before you put them away, and they’ll be nicely sticky when you are ready for your next session.
By the time that the session is finished, you should feel considerably less nerve pain. You’ll also encourage blood to flow to the area, which can help deliver much-needed oxygen to the muscles and tendons, speeding up the long-term recovery process.
With results that come this quickly, it’s easy to see how people could start to overuse TENS and possibly harm themselves.
While TENS is 100% safe, you also need to know when to take a break.
Like anything in life, you can overuse these devices and make your problems even worse than they were before!
How To Know When To Take A Break From TENS
Most professionals recommend using a TENS for between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the severity of your pain, how badly it’s affecting you, and what area is hurting.
A small knot in your forearm will typically need less treatment than a deep-tissue knot that’s set deep in your shoulder blade. Joints such as your elbows, knees, wrists, and rotator cuffs are other areas that tend to be slow-healing since they don’t get a lot of blood flow and consist of a lot of cartilage.
However, just because your pain is deep-set doesn’t mean that you should overuse your TENS unit.
You should always try to limit your sessions to 30-minutes at a time.
If you feel like you need more time, it’s perfectly fine to use your TENS multiple times a day. Just make sure that you’re giving yourself breaks in between usage to give your body time to recover from the treatment!
So, how do you know when it’s time to take a break from TENS?
1. You Feel Fatigued
While using TENS, the most frequently reported side effect is muscle fatigue. As the electricity arcs through your muscles and tendons, it causes them to flex and tighten in response to the stimulation.
This is your body’s natural reflex and is what initially triggers your body to start releasing endorphins and pain-blocking chemicals.
A short 10 to 30-minute TENS treatment will often leave the targeted area feeling tired as if you just performed a hardcore muscle workout. This is due to the fact that your muscles were repeatedly flexing and holding themselves in that tightened position, which is a form of isometric exercise (exercises that involve holding the muscle in a tense position). In a way, you’re building muscle with your TENS unit.
Once you start to feel the fatigue set in, it’s time to take a break! Continuing to use TENS after your muscles start to get tired can overstrain them and cause them to be even tighter than they were before.
You Feel Numb
Although TENS is designed to treat pain, it can also cause pain if it’s not used correctly. For instance, if you misplace the electrodes, you may cause your muscles to pinch a nerve.
This can either result in light shocking pain or may cause the entire area to feel numb as blood supply is cut off from the area.
If you feel the area starting to get numb, then you should either take a break or rearrange the electrodes until you no longer feel numbness. Be sure to follow your instruction as to where to place the electrodes.
You Notice Topical Skin Irritation
If you have an allergy to nickel, copper, or adhesives, then you may notice topical skin irritation in the form of a rash, skin flushing, or itchiness once you start using your TENS unit. Nickel, copper, and adhesives are all essential parts of the electrodes, so you can’t get around this.
Allergic responses can range from mild and barely noticeable to severe and painful. If you just have a slight response, you may be able to lessen your body’s response by taking an oral antihistamine allergy medicine.
However, if the irritation persists, you should discontinue use or take a break from TENS.