Can You Overuse a TENS Unit: How Much is Too Much
When it comes to pain relief, can there ever be enough? For newcomers just discovering the surprising and delightful effects of a TENS unit for pain management, it’s easy to become overenthusiastic and forget to ask important questions about whether you can overuse your TENS unit. While the positive effects are many, and the downsides are relatively minimal, it’s always possible to go overboard. Unfortunately, when you try too hard to heal or reduce pain, it can have the opposite effect. I’ll explain how a TENS unit helps your body and offer you more in-depth information on the best practices for using yours safely. No one deserves to be in pain. Avoid possible problems by knowing your machine and your body.
Can you overuse a TENS unit? You can overuse a TENS unit. Soreness and irritation at the site of use are a common sign of too much TENS Use. Medical practitioners often recommend no more than three fifteen to twenty-minute sessions per day. However, you can speak to your doctor if you feel you need more, and that standard is usually indicated for each area where you use it.
Why Does a TENS Unit Help With Pain
Understanding how to use your TENS unit, so you don’t accidentally overuse it is essential. However, the questions surrounding why it works in the first place are harder to pin down than you might think. Because the human body is so incredibly complex, and our ability to see inside living tissues at a microscopic level is still a fairly recent accomplishment in human history, scientists simply haven’t had time to study everything. Yet, we are not completely in the dark. Some excellent theories have a fair amount of scientific evidence to suggest they may be correct.
One theory states that the sensation from the electricity helps produce hormones like dopamine and serotonin. In turn, these chemicals make you feel good mentally and physically. Thus it is tricking your body into creating its own pain relief.
Another good theory comes from WebMD. “…Stimulating nerves closes a “gate” mechanism in the spinal cord, and that can help eliminate the sensation of pain.” Similar theories include the increased blood flow, relaxation of muscles, and other positive effects are created through nerve stimulation.
So which theory is correct? There is no clear answer yet, but that doesn’t change the fact that a TENS unit does reduce or eliminate pain. Fortunately, scientists are forever working on a better understanding of the human body, and they gain more insight with each study.
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Intriguingly, any or all the theories on why TENS units work so well could be true. Ultimately, there’s no reason why stimulating nerves to close gaps, increasing blood flow, and creating ‘happy’ chemicals to relieve pain can’t all happen at the same time. Regardless, doctors have been using TENS units for pain relief therapies for over thirty years, and the effectiveness has stood the test of time.
Using a TENS Unit Safely
Overusing a TENS unit is not the only thing that can go wrong. While most people experience outstanding non-invasive relief, improper use can result in issues. For example, you should never stick a portable tens unit on your spine.
Similarly, it’s not recommended or safe to place your TENS unit over your heart or on your neck and head. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise and is present to ensure the treatment is safe, doing these things can interfere with crucial electrical impulses in your body. It’s also not a good idea to use this device on your genitalia or throat.
Following manufacturer and health care professionals’ advice when using a TENS unit can save you a lot of pain and trouble. At best, improper use will not get the results you want or need. Placing the machine properly is based on decades of use and research that show the most efficacious methods.
How Many Times Can You Use a TENS Unit Per Day
Most medical practitioners recommend building up from shorter and lower power to get used to a TENS unit’s sensation. Beginning with one fifteen-minute treatment on a low setting will help you gauge your pain level and tolerance for the current safely. Eventually, you can work toward using the unit up to three times per day for longer periods and on a higher setting.
Most people find the TENS unit’s sensation to be tingly or slightly prickly, but not unmanageable. However, all people have different tolerances for what is comfortable. This is why it’s always a wise decision to work your way up from the lowest setting.
Some doctors say that you can use a TENS unit whenever you need it, thanks to this pain management tool’s safety and efficiency. Still, taking breaks between uses to avoid irritating your skin is also important.
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How Long Can You Leave a TENS Unit On
Some treatment plans call for sessions as long as an hour. However, it is important to discuss prolonged exposure with a medical professional rather than simply guessing at home. Typically a longer session is only indicated for extreme pain, such as chronic illnesses may create.
Always start slow and build up to longer sessions unless your doctor or physical therapist tells you otherwise. Too much electrical stimulation is harder to shrug off than other pain killer forms, but you can become used to the effect. Resultantly you might lose some of the benefits over time and need to take a break for three to five days.
Some chronic pain patients say that the pain returns once they switch off their TENS unit. Although these are rarer cases and often include severe and lasting pain, it can happen. Thus, for some, prolonged uses are recommended.
How High Should You Set A TENS Unit
Your TENS unit should be safe and effective at every level. These devices are well controlled and made to handle the job they are doing safely. Short of a manufacturer defect, or improper use, you can use them easily on the highest settings. That said, it’s not a good idea to merely turn it all the way up.
For many TENS users, the sensation and effectiveness go down after a few minutes of use. Hence, turning it up helps create a more lasting treatment. Naturally, you can’t turn up a machine that’s already set to the highest possible setting.
According to CHS, “Those who suffer from acute pain should set the frequency to be between 80 and 120 Hertz. If muscle stimulation is what you need, then 35-50 Hertz are the recommended values. Between 2 and 10 Hertz are the recommended settings for those suffering from chronic pain.”
Regrettably, not all machines have their settings listed in hertz. If yours is listed simply as a number, dial for ease of access and use, don’t worry. Instead, begin on the lowest setting and slowly turn it up until you can feel the effect yet remain comfortable. Doing this will keep your pain management from causing additional discomfort. Plus, it should allow you to turn the settings up as your body adapts.
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Know If You’re Overusing a TENS Unit
Overusing a TENS unit can cause discomfort or lessen the effectiveness of the treatment. Using your TENS unit more than your doctor recommends constitutes ‘too much.’ Likewise, exceeding the manufacturer’s safety and duration standards is the same. While these can both cause discomfort or alternately have no noticeable effect, don’t mistreat your body and machinery.
Turning your TENS up so high that it makes you uncomfortable or causes pain is another way to go too far. Unless you are under direct medical supervision, there’s no reason to have a painful treatment. TENS use should be safe and comfortable. If it hurts, you need to stop and turn the machine off immediately.
Finally, if you have redness or irritation at the site of use, you have probably overused your TENS unit. Too much current can cause muscle pain, stinging, or redness at the electrode site. Fortunately, these effects are uncommon and rarely occur with proper use.
Most problems you can have with a TENS unit come from user error. Always read through the directions, and take the time to place your electrodes carefully over the muscle rather than bony areas.
Can A TENS Unit Cause Problems
Though TENS units are typically extremely safe and effective pain management tools, there are times and places you should never use this device. If you have a heart condition or diabetes, please consult your doctor before trying a portable TENS unit. Certain health conditions may be negatively impacted by TENS use.
Another group of people who cannot use TENS safely is those with implants inside their bodies. If you have a pump, pacemaker, plate, or even some simple metal pins in a hip, please don’t use a TENS unit. Both metals and electronic devices are affected by electric current, and that is what your device produces. Even using it on an extremity, far from the site of your implant can be unsafe.
Ensure your skin is always clean, dry, and free from lotions or oils before you place electrodes. Additionally, water such as pools, tubs, and showers can cause shock. Even using your tens in a Humid environment or when you are sweating is against the advisories. You don’t want to ruin your device or get injured over a little water after all.
Don’t place electrodes on damaged skin. Cuts, bruises, and infections are all bad locations for TENS treatment. Always pick a location where your skin is unbroken, or wait until the skin has healed.
Finally, you should not use a TENS unit when you’re operating machinery. This includes cars and other vehicles. Because the pulses of electricity can cause unexpected muscle jumps, you should use this device when you are in a safe environment, rather than when a wrist spasm could cause you severe injury. Regardless of where you place the electrodes on your body, unexpected movements can interfere with normal functions.
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TENS units are a safe and effective, non-invasive solution for pain management. However, it is still possible to overdo it and use your device too much. Fortunately, most of the side effects of overuse are mild. Use your TENS unit safely by following all the precautions, directions, and medical advice from your doctor, and you should have no concerns.
It is always crucial to heed the advice of your doctor and read the manufacturer’s directions carefully. Moreover, you should start with smaller sessions of ten to fifteen minutes on a lower power setting and work your way up. Never start on a high setting. Finding the right balance of comfort and effectiveness may take a few tries, but it’s well worth the effort.
A properly used TENS unit is an incredible tool for pain management. So long as you take care of it and only use it safely, your TENS unit can significantly improve your quality of life.