How to Use a TENS Unit for Pain Relief

Author: AskDoctorJo

Hey everybody it's Doctor Jo, and today I'm going to show you how to use a TENS unit for pain relief. So let's get started. So what does TENS stand for you might ask? it's transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Well what does that mean? well basically transcutaneous means on the surface of the skin, and electrical nerve stimulation is making the nerve stimulated through some kind of stimulation being electric stimulation or sometimes this vibration things like that, but what this is different from like an EMS unit or electrical muscle stimulation is this gets those surface nerves right on the skin. So technically when you're using this for pain relief your muscles shouldn't really be contracting. Now sometimes if you if you have just really thin skin or not a lot of meat on your bones, those muscles will contract a little bit, but the goal of a TENS unit is strictly for pain relief, it's not to contract those muscles so that's what a little bit of the difference is. And what I really like about a TENS unit for pain relief in general is if you don't like taking the pain medication or maybe you have allergies or bad reactions to pain medication, this is a good alternative.

When I've had both my surgeries shoulder and hip, and all the other surgeries I've had, but mainly those, I maybe one or two days afterwards, I'll take some pain medication and then I'll just use a TENS unit and ice the rest of the time because it's enough for me to take away that pain, and for most people take that edge off just enough. So I think is a great alternative especially if you just don't do very well pain medication which a lot of people don't. So it has, with tens, a lot of different settings. This unit particularly here, the folks at CUH sent me, and I really like this one not only because it's small and compact but it has 16 different modes. So that's really really cool and it's got a lot of power to it as well, but again like I mentioned before, it's not supposed to contract the muscles this is a tens unit where it kind of massages those muscles, it gets that current in there just to calm things down. And basically what I tell my patients not in technical terms, so what does the tens unit exactly do to make the pain go away? so this current follows the same pain pathway back to your brain because the pain really comes from our brain it's not, you know, if my me is hurting the pain is not really here it's sending signals to my brain and my brain saying yes that hurts. So it's following that same pain pathway and kind of canceling it out through vibration, so that's that's what it does.

That's the goal of it. It does in a sense have a healing component to it because that that vibration that that nerve impulse, the electrical impulse, excuse me that goes in there kind of helps increase the circulation as well so if you've got some swelling you've got some irritation, it will help with that, but its main goal is to kind of cancel out that pain feeling. So you can do your stretches and exercises to feel better. So again I'm going to show you real quick here the CUH brand which is really cool. I mean look how big it is, it fits into my palm right there. You can put it in your pocket. It's got two separate channels which I like and each channel which this is, the the part that I like best about it has two electrodes on it, so it gives you the option of either just doing one channel with two electrodes or two channels with four electrodes, and you can use them for different purposes.

My main rule of thumb is if you have a big surface like the knee, you want to use the four electrodes. And if you have something smaller like the elbow or maybe even if you're just trying to get a specific area, then just use the two electrodes or one channel. So it's really important also people sometimes don't know this and sometimes it's not in the instructions, and in certain units but so one channel here where it's connected you can see they need to cross each other.

How to Use a TENS Unit for Pain Relief

So if you're using four electrodes, it should be like this and the pain spot should be basically in the middle. So if I've got this channel, I'm going to put one here and then I'm going to put one on the opposite side down below, and then I'm going to put a make it a cross so the other channel then goes here (with some dog hair on it) and then it crosses over on the other side. And so what that does is it makes the currents go this way so you're getting it in that pain area. If you do the same channel here and here then it's just going to go this way and it's going to go this way, and some people might think that feels okay, but if the goal is to really get that spot, you want it to go this way and this way. So the other big thing that people like to ask is once you turn it on, it's got those 16 modes, and they're like well which mode should I use, you know, there's 16 of them. How do I know what's best for me? this is what I tell my patients. You'll probably hear therapists tell you completely different things.

Which ever one makes it feel better. Whichever one you like the best. I think everybody's personal preference is going to be something different, which is fine. You know they, some of them will have settings that say this is for your knee, this is for your shoulder, this is for your elbow, this particular one doesn't do that, it has just some different kind of massaging type sensations, and so in the end if it's increasing the circulation and if it's following that same pain pathway to cancel it out, to me I don't think it really matters what setting you have.

I think the different settings to me are your comfort level, so some people like the one that just goes up and down and up and down like that, and some people like the one that kind of almost like somebody's just kind of beating on you a little bit to get that vibration or specific massages to do that. So it's really just what you think feels the best. So as you can see it's got a lot of great features so if you're interested in purchasing the CUH you can click on the link up here.

So what I want to show you really quickly I'm gonna do what you probably shouldn't do, and I'm gonna take it up strong enough where it actually will probably start making a muscle contract a little bit which is what you don't really want. Now like a lot of times on the shoulder since it's a smaller area, and usually those muscles are a little bit more on the surface, maybe you don't have as much fat or adipose tissue on it, you might start getting a little bit contractions, but you don't really want that to happen because that's going to fatigue out that muscle and again the purpose of the TENS is to make you feel better, they cancel out that pain so let's see if I can do this without my hair sticking up. Just kidding.

So I'm just going to start going and so you can see here we're, see how it jumped like that? I really don't want it that high it again might do a little bit in some places, and sometimes you can just fix that by changing the placement of the electrode a little bit. So here it was getting that VMO just a little bit more, so I'm just going to move that that pad just a little bit back .and this is on, that it's not going to make a difference if you take them off and put them on while it's still on, I would just turn it down back down to its lowest setting. But so now it's not really doing that contraction that's about it at the same level now if I turn it up it will still, you can probably see a little bit where it's doing that and that's just not something I think it's really good for your muscle, you know if you're trying to get strengthening and make that muscle contract that's what you want, but for the tens unit you really don't want that, so again on this one it's pretty cool because it has the different settings and you know I would say when you get it just go through and see how it feels. You know again some people like the certain ones better than the others, and another thing that I really like about this unit is it comes with some other electrodes as well so different sizes.

So these smaller electrodes are usually better for smaller surface area. So let's say I've got some lateral epicondylitis or something like that what I would probably do is just use two electrodes or two placements, and use the smaller pads just because that's going to get a little bit more directly to the area and it's going to be, it's just really going to hit that spot versus having those electrodes you know big and clunky all over the place. So I think I got myself all tied up. There we go.

And so by having the smaller electrodes you can really just get around the spot. So let's say that outside elbow tennis elbow a little bit is really sore, then I can take these and just place you know one right here and then the other one right here. Now with this unit what I found is they're they're both on all the time, so if you don't want one of them on, then you want to probably go ahead and just unplug that side, and then you probably wouldn't have it plugged in anyways, but if you're just using to just plug in that one, and then again you can pick which mode is best for you, and it might be different.

So if you like one on the knee, you might like a different one on a smaller area or something, so I could then just change it to whatever I wanted to and for some of these, is for like headaches or reflexology in the feet or in the ears and things like that, and so those are not quite as intense and so you might want to start with those first and see how they feel. So I think it gives you a really good variety of things to try and so you can just do the one that works best for you, and what works best for you might not work for somebody else, so the main things I would say is if you're gonna use it on your low back for low back pain which I think tens is great for, I would use the four electrodes and just kind of make a nice surface area of your back so you're just getting that whole general low back or mid to upper back. And so the further away might not be quite as strong, but you're going to get more of an area.

If you're using the shoulder it kind of depends on where the pain is. Some people if it's like on the outside might just want to do two right here but I like if your shoulder in general is hurting, do one back one front kind of one up here at the neck, and then one a little bit lower on the arm so then you kind of get that whole area as well. You can even do it on if you've got shin splints, you can do your anterior tibialis, if you've got you know calf strain, calf cramping, and things like that. You can use it on your calf, hamstrings, quad, we talked a little bit. So you really can use it almost anywhere that you have some muscle soreness. Once you start getting into the front of the neck, or you know where those those arteries are and stuff, you want to be you want to be a little careful with those. You don't want to go right there, but as long as it's those big muscle groups, those should be fine, but you should always talk with your doctor or physical therapist first because there are some what we call contraindications for using these, and a lot of times after surgeries sometimes the TENS is usually fine, the neuromuscular is not always fine.

Specially if you have a fracture or something, so again even if you're using the tens I would clear it with your doctor of whatever injury you have or if you're going to physical therapy you know check with them and take your unit with you. I've had my patients say hey I bought this online it's awesome but I don't know how to use it, and so then your therapist can use some of the session just to show you how to use it, make sure you're using it properly, make sure you're feeling good while you're doing it, making sure that those electrodes are in good placement to really get that pain relief that you need. So there you have it that's how you use a TENS unit for pain relief. And if you're interested in purchasing the CUH make sure to click on the link up here, and don't forget to subscribe by clicking down here. And remember, be safe (don't go too high), have fun, and I hope you feel better soon.

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