A Tens machine is a small portable, battery operated device which should be worn on the body. The device is stuck by sticky pads to the skin and small electrical pulses are transferred to the body. These pulses are like little electrical shocks which are effective in easing certain types of pains. Tens machines are manufactured to affect the way pain signals travel through the brain.
Pain signals travel to the brain via the nerves and spinal cord. If these pain signals could be blocked by the tiny electrical shocks from the Tens machine, the brain will receive quite a few signals from the source of pain. This is the mechanism in the Tens machine. There are two methods used by the Tens machine to relive your pain effectively.
1. Pain Gating – The Tens machine would produce millions of small electrical impulses that would enter your body via the electrodes placed on the skin adjacent to the painful region. These electrical impulses are extremely fast and would overpower the slow pain impulses. They would travel quickly to the brain via the spinal cord and nerves. This is performed by high pulse impulses between 90-130 Hz. This is the most common method where the tens unit machine would be used. This is known as the gate control theory of pain. When the gate is open, pain messages get through to the brain and we feel the pain. When the gate is closed, these messages are barred from traveling to the brain and we don’t feel the pain.
The Tens machine would stimulate the non-pain carrying impulses and close the gate. In such instances, the brain is busy dealing with the impulses that are received from the Tens machine that it has no time in accommodating the slower pain signals received from painful areas in the body. The same mechanism is at work when you rub an injured area in your body. It helps to lessen the pain to a certain extent.
The gate control theory was revealed in 1965 by Melzack and Wall. The theory is based on smaller diameter nerve fibers which would carry pain signals through a gate mechanism. But when larger diameter nerve fibers go through the same gate, it could inhibit the transmission of smaller signals through the gate. Chemicals released in response to the pain stimuli such as endorphins can also influence whether the gate is opened or closed for pain signals. This is the other method of relieving your pain via a Tens machine.
2. Endorphin Release – As you are already aware, the pain gate could be shut by stimulating the release of endorphins and other pain relieving chemicals in the body. These chemicals are popularly known as opioids. They are a naturally occurring hormone in the body. They are released in response to mental stress or physical pain in order to reduce the pain and promote a feeling of well-being. For this to happen the Tens machine should be set on a low pulse rate of 2-5Hz. This would make your body release opioids which would help to relieve a pain. Opioids are similar to morphine and has a strong painkiller effect. These are the two methods how a Tens machine would relieve your pain.
A Few Precautions
There are a few precautions that need to be taken when using the Tens machine. The electrode pads should not be placed on broken or damaged skin, they should not be placed close to the mouth or eyes and the machine should not be used when driving or operating any other machinery.
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