Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Electrotherapy & Physiotherapy


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There are many forms of therapy a physiotherapist may make use of to effectively deliver treatment to patients. Electrotherapy is one of these, and is a method that has been used broadly to achieve good results. One commonly used form of electrotherapy is TENS, and the following article discusses its uses and contraindications.

How does it work?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a form of electrotherapy which makes use a of a convenient device that applies an electrical current through the skin to stimulate sensory nerves and trigger the release of endorphins, hormones with a pain relieving property that provide a natural and effective relief of chronic pain. TENS is actually quite a broad category describing a range of different techniques based on applying electrical stimulation through the skin, but within physiotherapy its use is generally focussed on the relief of symptomatic pain, particularly in instances of chronic pain that isn’t being dealt with effectively by means of medication.

TENS in physiotherapy

The main advantage of TENS is that it makes use of natural pain relieving mechanisms, and hence has minimal side effects. Drug therapies effectively introduce foreign chemicals to achieve the same end, but in doing so alter your metabolism and bodily function, hence causing more potential side effects. The main use in physiotherapy for TENS is as a means of relieving chronic pain relief without the risk of drug interactions and/or side effects.

TENS devices can provide a range of frequencies which allow them to tailor to a broad range of physiologies, each of which may respond differently under a range of stimulation. New machines are becoming more compact and easy to use, allowing for patients to use the therapy in the comfort and privacy of home after instruction and guidance from a physio.

TENS will often be used in conjunction with other forms of physical therapy for the best clinical outcomes. Using the technique in conjunction with hot and cold therapies, hydrotherapy, stretching, and therapeutic exercise is common practice.

Contraindications in the use of TENS for physiotherapy

Some patients may complain of an allergic reaction to either the electrodes applied to your skin for TENS, or to the adhesive substances used to hold said electrodes in place. Otherwise the procedure is reputed to have few side effects. There are however some clear contraindications for use, pregnancy for example, means that electrodes should not be applied to the abdomen or surrounding region. If you are unable to effectively use or understand the use of the TENS equipment, then treatment should only be provided by the physio as opposed to by yourself at home. Applying any current through the skin whilst harbouring an electrical implant like a pacemaker is not advised as the device may interfere with it. Finally electrodes should not be placed on top of skin that is suffering from a dermatological condition like eczema.


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