Experience with TENS Unit

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Experience with TENS Unit

Postby jlubin » Sun Jun 22, 2003 2:50 pm

Transverse Myelitis Association

Volume 4 Issue 2

October 2001

In Their Own Words

Experience with TENS Unit

Conrad Brown

I have no way of knowing how many Tmer's who suffer from spasms may or may not be familiar with the effectiveness of a TENS unit, but I thought it would be helpful to others for me to communicate about my experiences.

Though few physical therapists and seemingly fewer physicians know this, painful spasms can be stopped cold with a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit - at least mine can be. An L2-4 incomplete paraplegic following a mysterious ten-minute attack 28 years ago, I've been using a TENS unit for the past 15 years for pain-producing nocturnal spasms, usually stopping them instantly the moment they appear. As a consequence, I take no pain medication other than an occasional Tylenol.

Every evening before dinner I wipe a skin barrier across two areas either side of the spine about waist level. Then I apply 1-3/4" x 3-1/4" Encore Tantone re-usable electrodes one on each side of the spine oriented vertically about eight inches apart. I use the snap-on type snapped onto a double lead wire, having found that the slide-on type can pull apart, and the free end of a charged TENS lead can be like having a snake in bed with you.

I get my electrodes from Electro Devices (1-800-762-5969), a mail order supplier par excellence. The two large electrodes I use deliver a broad flow of stimulation from one electrode to the other, which is a set-up I have found far more effective than the standard four small electrodes, whatever their placement. To keep from getting tangled with the lead wire, I wear a light T-shirt under my pajama top and run the wire around and up across my chest next to the skin; the TENS unit goes in my pajama pocket.

I tried several different brands of TENS unit (available only by prescription) before I came upon the EMPI (1-800-328-2536), which I use every night, removing the electrodes when I get up in the morning. Experimenting with different EMPI configurations, I long ago discovered that a pulse rate of 60 and a top-side control set on R were most effective and I have used these settings ever since.

Some folks may shy away from the idea of a TENS unit because it sounds like some kind of shock wave therapy, which it most decidedly is not. The TENS unit produces rather pleasant vibrations under the skin, vibrations which, when you press your fingers on the site, surprisingly you cannot feel at all. As to how it works, I have never been able to get an answer that is nontechnical enough for me to understand. I can only say, the TENS stimulation seems to interrupt either the pathway or the message itself between the spasms and the brain.

And I shall never cease to be amazed at how instantaneously it works if I turn the TENS unit on within the first few seconds of an attack of spasms, although if the spasms start while I'm asleep, relief may take a little longer. There have even been a few times, I must admit, when I have wakened in the night to find the spasms have a long head start and are going full blast. Then the TENS unit has not been effective at all.

I understand that some people are not helped by a TENS unit. Nevertheless, I urge any reader-sufferer who may not have tried the device to give it a real chance. Without mine I think I'd have gone over the abyss years ago.


Conrad Brown


fax 392-0149


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Postby ellisjb » Thu Jun 02, 2005 6:33 pm

I know this is an old post but I've been using a device that is similar to a TENS unit called a SCENAR. Same idea - electrical pulse that you place on the skin. I honestly don't understand it but it does seem to be helping the symptoms that remain after my 3rd bout of recurrent TM. Not miraculous but better. Does anyone have any experience with this time of therapy?
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Postby courtneysmom » Fri Jun 03, 2005 8:49 am

I have been using a similar device in my therapy combined with accupressure and accupuncture for several months and I have found a great reduction in my pain as well as increased function......anything that works is my motto.
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Re: Experience with TENS Unit

Postby Scooter-girl » Mon Nov 24, 2008 8:51 pm

I also use a TENS unit. I use the 4 pads, each about 2.5 square inches. I don't know what I'd do without it. My physical therapist recommended it to my physician after I used it in therapy with good results. If I use it right when I start feeling the spasms/electrical jolts starting in or tightening of the muscles, the TENS unit will usually calm my spasms and illiminate them. But, I also use Diazapam, Klonopin, and Baclofen, and at times, Mirapex. When these meds. don't work, the TENS unit almost always does the trick. I'll wear it all night. It's like a methodical massage. I also place the pads on each side of my spine about 8 inches above my waist and also on each side of my tail bone: actually about 2 inches above my tail bone. My only problem is, I go through the batteries the company supplies me with quicker than I go through the electrode pads.

It's worth trying. Ask your doctor or get a referral from your physical therapist to your doctor saying that it is advisable to try.

Good luck.

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Re: Experience with TENS Unit

Postby Jess T1-C4 » Fri Feb 13, 2009 8:25 pm

I have just started using the Empi TENS unit to help with what I thought was mild spasticity of my lower back and the PT thinks is tone. I have gotten MUCH relief - I would stiffen up when I would go to move after sleeping or sitting for a period of time. That stiffness is pretty much gone using the TENS unit about every 5 days for 30 minutes. It has also given me relief of mild neuropathic pain that I experience occassionaly due to my pants rubbing on my lower back and legs. I have not been using any medication, but was considering trying gabapentin. I have gotten enough relief from the TENS unit that I am not going to try the medication.

I would recommend trying the TENS unit - I was amazed at how quickly it worked and how much better I feel (and I thought I was feeling pretty good before!). My neurologist had no problem writing the presciption for it and my insurance is paying 100% for the unit and electrode pads.

Glad to hear other positive feedback about this type of therapy!
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Re: Experience with TENS Unit

Postby marieke » Sat Feb 14, 2009 6:31 am

I use it for pain, does nothing for spasticity, but does decrease my pain when it gets bad and meds just don't cut it.
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Re: Experience with TENS Unit

Postby Tomislav » Wed Apr 15, 2009 2:21 am

TENS as i noticed only feeds pain receptors so u cant feel pain for few hours but pain always comes back. I use stimulation for building up muscles and it helps with everything including pain. Nothing hurts me anymore and i feel much better after i stimulate myself.
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