TENS Treatment

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS, is a pain relief system used to transmit low-voltage electrical impulses through electrodes onto the skin. Supporters believe TENS to be an effective method of acute chronic pain relief. Some conditions that may benefit from TENS treatments are: cancer, chronic wounds, bursitis, tendonitis, arthritis, headaches, childbirth, and injuries. The theory behind TENS is that this process helps to stimulate the release of endorphins which are the body’s natural painkillers. It is more commonly prescribed as a treatment for acute pain relief; however, effectiveness as a reliever of long-term issues has yet to be proven.

The Procedure

TENS consists of a device containing an electrical power unit that is connected by wires to a pair of electrodes. The electrodes are placed on the skin near the internal source of pain, that when switched on, emit a mild electrical current into the body. Sessions typically last from 5 to 15 minutes with the amount of treatment sessions corresponding to the severity of the pain. TENS can be applied by trained therapists or for in- home use with the aid of a portable system. There are currently over 100 different types of TENS devices approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, all requiring a prescription.

Benefits of TENS

TENS was first developed in 1965 as the Gate Control Theory by Dr. Ronald Melzac and Dr. Patrick Wall. The Gate Control Theory was based on the idea that electrical stimulation of nerves can open a gateway to the spinal cord and prevent the awareness of pain. TENS became popular and entered into common practice in the 1970s, still maintaining usage today. Research applying TENS therapy in cases of cancer pain is limited and anecdotal. Although contradictory, evidence suggests that TENS may help to relieve pain related to nerve tissue damage. It may also be more effective when used with painkillers. More study is needed to test its effect on cancer-related and other chronic pains, as the number of clinical studies and case reports are limited. However, the American Cancer Society notes one study in which TENS did prove useful as an addition to pain relief, and another that commented on an ease of pain in both acute muscle and bone pain, and pain related to surgical procedures. Although TENS is generally considered low-risk, caution is urged in relation to allergies, infusion pumps, pacemakers, and defibrillators.

Those diagnosed with cancers such as mesothelioma might be interested in learning more about the benefits of TENS, especially as it pertains to post-surgical acute pain relief. Patients with mesothelioma might consider these types of alternative treatments in conjunction with their current standard methods of treatment.