A TENS unit (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) is a small electrical device that is used for treating pain.
E-stim or Electrical stimulation using a TENS unit or other device can affect your brain's perception of pain. The earliest use of this technique is seen in Egyptian stone carvings from 2500 BC that depict electric fish being used to treat painful conditions.
In 400 BC Hippocrates also used electric fish to treat headaches and arthritis.
Scientists believe E Stim works to relieve pain in three different ways.
1. Blocking or modifying the pain signal
2. Stimulating the release of endorphins.
3. The Gateway Theory of Pain
Electrical stimulation of the nerve fibers can interrupt or block the pain signal going to the brain. When the signal does not reach the brain you do not feel the pain.
In many cases you will feel a buzzing or tingling sensation that is from the electricity stimulating the nerves.
But it is not a painful sensation and many people find the feeling relaxing or even pleasant.
Image thanks to Wisser68 via Wikimedia Commons
Your brain also has a built in or natural system for suppressing the pain you feel.
In response to pain, excitement, exercise, love and sexual activity your brain releases endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters or chemicals that that transmit messages between nerves.
They work similar to morphine working to block pain and produce euphoria. Endorphins are thought to be the cause of the "runner's high" that you have heard people talk about.
The Gateway Theory suggests that you can only feel one sensation at a time. That gateways in the nerve pathways can be opened or closed by additional sensations. This is why you rub your hand after slamming it in the door.
The tingling sensation that you experience with electrical stimulation may close the gate on the nerve pathway transmitting the pain signal.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation or a TENS unit is a convenient and common way that people currently use to treat pain. These devices have electrodes mounted on small sticky pads that adhere to your skin and wires that connect the electrodes to a small generator that can be worn on your belt.
There are often adjustments for controlling the pulsations, the strength, and other components of the sensations you recieve. You can adjust the different aspects to find a combination that works best for blocking the pain and minimize any unpleasant sensations you may feel.
These units are available online or your doctor can order one for you.
Another option is to ask your doctor to refer you to a physical therapist for a TENS trial. You can be evaluated by the therapist who will then attach the leads to your area of pain and start you off with a low setting.
As you become more comfortable you can begin adjusting the setting yourself. If the stimulation helps with your pain the therapist can send a recommendation to your doctor who will order it for you.
A e-stim is a non medical way of treating and controlling your pain with few side effects. There seems to be no reason to not give it a try.