Does TENS unit help neuropathy? The general consensus is that a TENS unit works, according to most doctors we researched online. What doctors don’t agree on is if TENS for neuropathy actually helps with healing or just temporarily stops the pain, much like a strong painkilling prescription. In testing done by several respected pain clinics over 80% of those tested showed almost immediate and dramatic pain relief using TENS unit neuropathy therapy.
I personally vetted several companies that manufacture TENS machines before choosing one to recommend. In order to appreciate why I chose my personal favorite, it is necessary to know why we use TENS for neuropathy, to begin with.
TENS is short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulators are machines that use electric current to stimulate the nerves for therapeutic purposes and TENS machine therapy can easily be done at home.
Using a modern TENS unit for pain relief evolves from ancient Rome. Electrical stimulation for pain control was reportedly used in 63 A.D. It was reported by Scribonius Largus that pain was relieved by standing on an electrical fish at the seashore.
In the 16th through the 18th century, various electrostatic devices were used for headaches and other pains. Benjamin Franklin was an advocate of this method for pain relief. In the 19th century a device called the electreat was used for pain control and cancer cures. The electreat survived into the 20th century, but was not portable, and had limited stimulus control.
Portable TENS Unit
The first modern, patient-wearable TENS machine was patented in the United States in 1974.
The TENS unit for pain management was initially used for testing the tolerance of chronic pain patients to electrical stimulation before implantation of electrodes in the spinal cord dorsal column. The TENS unit electrodes were attached to an implanted receiver, which received its energy from an antenna worn on the surface of the skin. Although intended only for testing tolerance to electrical stimulation, many patients said they received so much relief from the TENS unit itself they never returned for the implant.
The TENS unit for pain management gained wide popularity in experimental therapies for chronic pain, but it was only in the last ten years medical use of the TENS unit for neuropathy began to take hold. This is why the sales literature for TENS machine pain relief tends to focus more on other types of pain where TENS has a much longer and broader scope of applications.
How Does a TENS Machine Work?
TENS machines are believed to work in two ways:
- On a high pulse rate of 90-130 Hz (the normal method of use), the electrical impulses are generated by how TENS machine works to interfere with and block pain signals sent to the brain. This is due to the gatekeeper control theory of pain. This proposes that there is a gate mechanism in the central nervous system. When the gate is open, pain signals get through to the brain and we feel pain. When the gate is closed, these pain signals are blocked and we do not feel pain. TENS machines are believed to stimulate certain non-pain-carrying nerves to close the gate. In effect, the brain is busy dealing with the signals it receives quickly from the TENS machine, rather than the slower (more painful) pain messages that the body is receiving from elsewhere. It explains why, if you injure yourself, rubbing that area can often temporarily reduce the pain.
- When the machine is set on a low pulse rate (2-5 Hz) it stimulates the body to create its own pain-easing chemicals called endorphins. These act a bit like morphine to block pain messages.
Knowing how TENS machine works should help you know how to make informed purchasing decisions and to more effectively use TENS units for pain relief of your own . . . often beyond its use just for diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
TENS Unit Pads
TENS Accessories include pads, socks, gloves, knee-pads, slippers, belts, ear-clips, AC adapters and more. The most needed accessory is TENS Unit Pads. Most units come with a starter supply of reusable pads. You should expect to replace the pads at least every 100 to 150 uses.
TENS unit electrodes are built into the special pads. There is a correct way to place the electrodes on the area of treatment. You should refer to the manuals that come with TENS machines.
For diabetic peripheral neuropathy in the feet conductive socks is an option. The socks are rather expensive because they have silver threads woven into the material making the socks excellent distributors of electric current over your foot. Conductive gloves are also available. The TENS socks and gloves are expected to last about six months with daily usage, according to the manufacturer’s statements.
TENS Unit Reviews
Best TENS unit reviews can be found by searching the internet. I discovered the three top consumer review sites all recommended the same TENS machine as their top choice. I found that very helpful.
Verified customer reviews on product manufacturer’s websites were also helpful . . . especially when there were dozens of five-star ratings.
The consumer’s best TENS units reviews were available only on a few manufacturers’ websites, so that narrowed the field. After that, I looked at pricing.
TENS unit review criteria also included testing the quality of each company’s customer service.
Best TENS Machine
iReliev has sold over 100,000 units internationally and is rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau.
We will be reviewing our top three choices of machines in detail in only a few days pending copy approval from the company.