Electrodes are placed on the skin, either directly over the painful area or more commonly, at key points along the nerve pathway. A small, battery-powered generator emits a milli-amp (one thousandth of an ampere) of electricity through lead wires to the electrodes.
When the current is delivered, some people experience less pain. This may be because the electricity from the electrodes stimulates the nerves in an affected area and sends signals to the brain that block or "scramble" normal pain signals. Another theory is that the electrical stimulation of the nerves may help the body to produce natural painkillers called endorphins, which may block the perception of pain.
People use TENS to relieve pain for several different types of illnesses and conditions. They use it most often to treat muscle, joint, or bone problems that occur with illnesses such as osteoarthritis or fibromyalgia, or for conditions such as low back pain, neck pain, tendinitis, or bursitis. People have also used TENS to treat sudden (acute) pain, such as labor pain, and long-lasting (chronic) pain, such as cancer pain.
One of the most compelling reasons for prescribing TENS for pain relief is that this therapy has few side effects. TENS is non-addictive, causes no drowsiness, and can be used indefinitely without the problems associated with prolonged drug use.
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