I have been given this product as part of a product review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the product was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.
When you have chronic pain it’s important that you develop a variety of strategies and methods to manage you pain. Pharmaceuticals can be wonderful, but they don’t always work as well as they should. And sometimes they just they cause unpleasant side effects.
An alternative way to relieve pain is with TENS. It’s something I’ve been aware of for a while. In fact, my wife used a TENs machine while in labor with our second child. Her experience was extremely positive, and I know she’s recommended it to her friends, too. So I knew they could be effective.
However, chronic pain from your disease is not the same as labor pain. So when I was presented the opportunity to test a TENS machine, I of course was eager to see if it could help my Ankylosing Spondylitis.
What is TENS?
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. What this means is a low voltage current is passed through adhesive pads which then travels along the nerve fibers, which in turn makes them contract. It also travels along the fibers to the brain. This then helps to “block” or “scramble” the pains signals that is coming from the same area. This works by placing two adhesive pads on the painful / affected area which then connect to a hand-held device. You select the mode, strength, and time you wish, then off you go. Easy.
Is it safe?
Experts consider it to be. It has been used by physical therapists and doctors as a drug free pain relief method for 40 years, and is approved for such use by the FDA. However, there are several places which you should avoid using the TENS machine. They are:
- Over the eyes.
- On the front of the neck.
- Through the chest using an anterior and posterior electrode positions (one pad on the back and one on the front), or other transthoracic applications understood as “across a thoracic diameter.
- Internally, except for specific applications of dental, vaginal, and anal stimulation that employ specialized TENS units
On broken skin areas or wounds, although it can be placed around wounds.
- Over a tumour/malignancy
- Directly over the spinal column
(This list was pulled from Wikipedia. Follow the references if you want more information. You can find a similar list in the device’s manual, too).
The machine I used
This review is of the TechCare Pro24. TechCare offer a larger range of TENS machines which range greatly in price from $30 to $350. The model I used can be picked up on Amazon for $45. This also comes with a life time limited warranty.
It also comes with six main modes (each main mode has 4 sub modes), which were quite useful. Though not a big deal, it would be useful if they actually explained the difference between all these modes in the manual. It’s somewhat of an oversight. Instead you have to rely on the pictures on the device to figure out which mode does what.
What’s in the box?
Quite a lot, actually. Aside from the machine itself there are several different pads in a variety of shapes and sizes. There’s a charger (obviously), 2 electrode cables, and an electro pad holder (so you can reuse the pads without them sticking to everything in the box! It’s the little things that help, really). You will also find a handy travel bag and the user manual, too.
Did it help?
Yes and no. I had varied success with the machine over the 2 weeks I tested it. My disease is specific to me. And you should keep that in mind when you try new methods of pain relief out, too. And not just with regards to TENS. I have two “types” of pain with a degree of frequency. The first is active inflammation in my joints. The second is from muscle spasms and irritation. Unfortunately, the second is usually caused by the first. Through the two weeks I tested the machine I was suffering mainly with hip pain. But I was having some less frequent upper back pain and spasms.
What the TENS machine did do well was deal with my back pain and muscle spasms. In fact, the first time I used the machine on my back I felt relief. I put this down to two reasons:
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or therapist, this is my educated opinion)
- This pain came at the end of my time testing the unit, so I was able to tolerate a higher strength setting for longer at this point.
- The underlying cause was muscular, so the massager works well to help stop the spasms which in return relieved my pain.
If you have similar troubles, I would definitely recommend the TENS for you. This is what they do best.
My main problem through the two week period, though, was the hip pain. This is where the TENS machine struggled. What a TENS machine doesn’t do is treat the cause your pain. This is kind of obvious, but you need to bare this in mind, so you don’t have unrealistic expectations. With the active joint inflammation, the TENS machine struggled. It wasn’t a complete waste of time, as I did find a way for it to help with some of the muscle spasms in the same area. But the worst of my pain was in the joint. And despite my best efforts I couldn’t manage to get the TENS to give me relief in my hip. I tried multiple modes with a varied amount of time and strength. It just wasn’t doing the trick.
Back to something positive. The Tech Pro24 actually has two cables and two input ports. That means you can use two pads in two different areas at once! That’s better than others I’ve seen through my research. It certainly makes sense. Chronic pain patients rarely have just one pain to deal with at once. So treating two areas at once is certainly a time saver.
I do have one gripe with the TechCare Pro24, though. Which isn’t with it’s efficacy, but with its instructions, or lack thereof. Until 2 years ago I was a registered nurse, so I know a little about muscles and muscle groups. But even I found it a little difficult to get the electrodes in the right place. There is no instruction to how to best apply the pads, or what size pad you should use. Instead you are left to figure it out and ask the Google gods. I understand that they can’t tell you the placement positions of the pads for every type of pain, that would be an unreasonable demand. But some guidance would have been appreciated. It did come with a big pull out poster of acupuncture treatment points, which is not the same thing. So I struggle to see the point of this. If this is somehow related, it’s not explained, nor clear.
In summary, my experience was useful. I approached this test with the same level of pragmatism as I always do. Although it wasn’t as wonderful as I’d hoped, it did help me with some of my pain. I will certainly carry on using it for my back pain and spasms. If you purchase this device, or one similar, I would encourage you to do a little research online first to get good pad placement for your particular issue. Using the trial and error method is tiresome, and might lead to a poor experience, or worse.
TENS is certainly another tool you can add to your pain management tool box. But like all tools, they have things they do well. Use the right tool for the job, always. And that should be your approach with all your pain management tools, not just TENS.
If you have used TENS before, or are thinking of it, let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email. I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences.