- The most important facts at a glance
- TENS devices support muscle building and fight muscle and joint problems.
- TENS therapy is used in the areas of medicine, rehabilitation, sports and wellness.
- Electrical stimulation devices stimulate the nerves with the help of electricity which is absorbed through the skin through electrodes.
- A distinction is made between TENS and EMS methods, which pursue different goals.
- Before making a purchase decision, interested parties should deal intensively with the subject and, if necessary, seek medical advice - especially in pain therapy.
What is a current stimulation device?
TENS devices are electrical stimulation devices that support natural muscle development and nerve stimulation. The four letters TENS stand for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Transcutaneous means that electrical impulses are received through the skin. These stimulation current devices emit pulses of current at a low frequency and are therefore harmless. However, the devices should not be used by certain groups of people or only under medical advice. A distinction is made between TENS and EMS methods. They pursue different goals. In general, treatment with electrical stimulation devices is referred to as electrical stimulation or electrotherapy. The products vary in price between 20 and almost 200 euros.
The task of TENS devices
The purposes and tasks of current stimulation devices are very diverse. Because there are so many areas of application. Firstly, those interested should note the difference between TENS and EMS. You can find a more detailed description of this in the “stimulation current models” section. However, the functional possibilities of these devices partially overlap. The points listed below generally apply to TENS, EMS or combination devices. These are the areas of responsibility in summary:
- muscle building
- muscle strengthening
- muscle relaxation
- nerve stimulation
- pain relief
- pain therapy
Who are TENS products interesting for?
In principle, current stimulation devices can help all groups of people suffering from muscle, joint, bone or nerve pain. The origins are numerous. For example, those who sit in front of the computer for several hours a day often have problems with their back and neck area. Competitive athletes who want to get back to training as soon as possible after an injury often face lengthy rehabilitation phases. Even athletes who simply want to build muscle faster sometimes turn to electrical stimulation therapy to speed up muscle growth or relax their muscles. Thus, these products are interesting for a large group.
Prorelax | Beurers | Auvon | Sanitas | Sanitation | Average | Dittman
Who are TENS devices not suitable for?
There are some groups of people who should only work with electrical stimulation devices after consulting with a doctor. This includes pregnant women, people with pacemakers or implants or known cardiac arrhythmias, minors, women with hormone spirals and people with Parkinson's disease or epilepsy. Care is also needed in the case of existing mental illnesses. Talk to your doctor, it's better to have too much than too little.
These are the advantages of TENS products
Since the tasks and possible uses of current stimulation devices are so diverse, numerous advantages can be listed. The downsides are really few. These are the most succinct advantages and disadvantages:
- scientifically recognized
- Safe and low risk
- direct mode of action
- painless treatment
- efficient and easy
- suitable to go
- cheap acquisition
- No drug treatment
- Individually applicable - also prescribed by a doctor
- No device maintenance required
- Application intervals must be observed
- Possible habituation effect if used too intensively
- Not suitable for some people
Since treatment with current-stimulating devices is not drug therapy, there are no interactions with other drugs. This is an important factor, especially for patients with a history of health problems. In this group, electrotherapy for pain relief can reduce or even replace the use of analgesics when necessary.
In addition, current stimulation therapies are recognized by health insurers. However, it is important to clarify whether the health insurance company will cover the costs before starting a prescribed therapy. In most cases, patients can expect no side effects if the therapy is used correctly. However, if you experience more severe pain or other discomfort, consult a doctor.
Wide range of applications
The two main areas of application are pain and nerve therapy and targeted muscle building. In the first area, it is common for doctors to prescribe therapy and, if necessary, provide medical support. The second area of application generally includes independent use – without medical supervision. However, there may be other situations where, for example, a physiotherapist constantly monitors muscle growth after surgery.
Stimulating current devices are used for people suffering from acute, but usually chronic, physical complaints or tension. As part of pain or physical therapy, TENS products help control pain more quickly. They are used for rehabilitation, and also as an addition to massages. Sometimes they even replace expensive massages. This may be of interest to people whose therapies are not covered by health insurance.
Relieve chronic diseases
TENS devices are used to alleviate chronic diseases of the entire human musculoskeletal system. These include, for example:
- nerve pain
- Muscle aches
- joint pain
- pain after sports injuries
- pain after surgery
- tennis elbow pain
- bone inflammation
- disc prolapse
Furthermore, consumers also use electrical stimulation devices when they want to strengthen or build their muscles. This can be useful after an operation, for example. But athletes who want to build their muscles in a targeted way for better performance can also use this device.
There are actually other application areas where electrical stimulation devices can help. They are also used for migraines, headaches, circulatory problems, incontinence or gastrointestinal problems. Some doctors also recommend its use as a complementary treatment after a stroke or in case of signs of paralysis.
As current stimulation devices stimulate the metabolism, some users also use the devices simply to be able to relax better. Those who can relax more easily also release more endorphins or endorphins from the body. Just relaxing can relieve tension and pain.
Not to be understood as a substitute for sports
An electrostimulation device is not a substitute for active sport or a healthy diet. Works as an athletic or therapeutic supplement. Physical endurance is not trained when using stimulation current.
How TENS machines work
Electrical impulses, which enter the body through electrodes through the skin, that is, transcutaneously, have a supporting effect on the healing processes. This is the principle of current stimulation devices. They therefore work very similarly to a pacemaker. Trigger points are stimulated by electrical stimulation. The electrodes are usually not built into the device, but rather pads that are placed on the skin. Users apply these pads to affected areas of the body - nerve pathways and muscle groups. This can be on the back, neck, stomach, shoulders, arms or legs.
If you are unsure about placement, frequency settings, and frequency of use, consult your physician or ask at pharmacies or medical supply stores. The instructions for use provided also help with the first application. Products usually consist of the battery powered device and two, four or more electrodes.
Since the current impulses delivered to nerve and muscle tissue are so smooth, the user does not experience any unpleasant pain. This type of stimulation, often felt as a tingling or vibration, triggers the body's own reactions that promote the healing process. The working of TENS devices goes back to gate control theory. He claims that by stimulating the receptors that transmit pain to the brain, real pain is masked. The body also releases endorphins and enkephalins, which are natural endogenous opiates. They complement the so-called pain block.
The different models of stimulation current
Applied stimulation current therapy has several advantages for patients with pain. Interested parties should inform themselves in advance about the different possible uses of TENS and EMS. The two methods are often confused. Abbreviations reveal which devices are to be used for what. In short, the difference is nerve or muscle stimulation. Both are done with the help of stimulation current, but with different intensities. However, the market also offers combination devices that combine TENS and EMS.
TENS method: pain therapy
The abbreviation TENS does not mean "transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation" for nothing. This method consists of providing patients with targeted pain relief. As the areas of application are so numerous, these products are suitable for many people with pain problems. Stimulating current devices can also be used alone in consultation with a physician. To prevent muscle imbalances, it is advisable to consult a professional. Frequency setting possibilities are greater than with EMS devices. Some products offer the TENS method but are also equipped with EMS as an extension.
- Stimulates the nerves
- Relieves chronic pain
- Promotes blood circulation
- Stimulates metabolism
- Releases endogenous substances
- Numerous areas of application
- Muscle relaxation as with EMS is also possible
- Consultation with a doctor is often required
- Attaching electrode pads without a bracket is sometimes difficult
- Not suitable for some people
- Muscle imbalances with overload
EMS method: aptitude
Compared to TENS therapy, the EMS method is specifically used for muscle stimulation. In addition to active sports, this method is considered a kind of full-body workout and promotes muscle growth. Athletes also use the EMS method - electrical muscle stimulation - to warm up muscles before training. The current frequency is so low that the user only feels a slight tingling sensation. Nerve tracts are generally not stimulated with this method. However, blood circulation is also stimulated at low frequencies.
What types of electrode pads are there?
The type and number of electrodes can be decisive purchasing criteria. With all types, care must be taken to ensure the pads adhere firmly to the skin during treatment. Otherwise, the transmission of the stimulation current through the skin is not working properly. There are self-adhesive pads, permanent electrodes or textile electrodes. Depending on the device, pads are connected to the control panel via cables. Users apply them directly to the painful area or near the desired body part. Devices usually have two, four, six or eight pads. Buyers pay attention to the composition, processing, number and size of the material.
Most devices have self-adhesive electrodes that work like a band-aid. Users do not need any additional contact gels for this as they adhere to the surfaces themselves. They usually consist of three layers: textile insulation layer, metal strips with electricity, adhesive layer with conductive gel.
- independent responsibility
- No gel required
- simple application
- hygiene aspect
- The adhesive force decreases
- Pad change needed after some time
- follow-up costs
This type of electrode consists of silicone or natural rubber mixed with a conductive material and is therefore more stable than the self-adhesive version. As the conductivity of permanent electrodes is very high, users have to make compromises when it comes to flexibility. In addition, it is necessary to use a contact gel. This can be more complicated, but has the advantage of being easy to clean.
- very long durability
- easy cleaning
- good hygiene
- no responsibility
- Contact gel required
The market also offers fabrics made of conductive material. These can be, for example, knuckle grips, socks or gloves. The electrodes are integrated into the material in the form of metallic wires. Silver is often used.
- uniform stimulation
- widely applicable
- less selective application
- hygiene aspect
Other types of electrodes
Manufacturers also offer probes, clamps or suction cups for other applications. The so-called abdominal belt belongs to textile electrodes and is more in the field of EMS method.
These purchase criteria help in the decision
As mentioned earlier, one of the most important aspects of TENS machines is the type of electrodes. But the number of pads and the channels to be controlled are also decisive in the purchase decision. Interested parties should consider in advance whether they would like to undertake selective or symmetrical therapy on a large scale. Furthermore, it is advisable to research the respective program functions of current stimulation devices before purchasing them.
The more individual needs are, the more program options should be available. It's worth comparing because many devices aren't necessarily much more expensive, although they do offer numerous options.
In addition, consumers should be aware of possible frequency ranges, intensity levels and current levels. The automatic shutdown feature can also be useful to prevent overuse. Remember that you should seek professional advice before the first application. You can find out more about the individual criteria below:
What is the number of channels and pads?
For example, there are 1-channel, 2-channel or 4-channel electrical stimulation devices, each with two, four or eight electrodes. Two electrodes are assigned to each channel. Therefore, there are always couples. It makes sense to control the channels separately, many devices can do this. As a rule, users with a small number of electrodes perform more selective treatment. If you want to treat a large area, you should look for devices with multiple channels and correspondingly more electrode pads. If necessary, discuss this with a doctor or ask at a medical supply store.
Number of programs: TENS vs. EMS
Combination devices with different programs are useful for users who do not want to choose between TENS and EMS methods. Often individual programs can be defined and even saved here. In this way, the user adjusts the programs to their own needs and adjusts the settings repeatedly during therapy if necessary. For example, there are also TENS models with a built-in massage function.
Many models offer different massage programs. If you are looking for relaxation, it is best to use a device with up to ten massage functions. Often these devices are not much more expensive than those with fewer massage options. Worth a comparison.
For overload protection, automatic shutdown of a pacing current device is useful. If you do too many spot treatments too often, it can trigger muscle imbalances. This must be avoided at all costs. An automatic shutdown function ends therapy without the user having to intervene manually.
Rate describes how many impulses pass through the current stimulation device in one second. The unit is always given in Hertz (Hz). TENS devices work with frequencies from at least 2 Hertz up to 150 Hertz.
Stimulation current treatment can be divided into four areas, each with different objectives. At this point, EMS treatment is not mentioned, it is information about TENS therapy. The effect of different intensities is shown below:
|frequency range||It is made||purpose of treatment|
|Less than 10 Hertz||individual spasms, vascular muscles are stimulated||muscle relaxation|
|Between 10 and 20 Hertz||Tremors (spontaneous contractions), the intestinal muscles are stimulated||Strengthen the pelvic floor muscles|
|Between 20 and 80 Hertz||Tetanic contraction, increased muscle stimulation||Joint pain treatment|
|Above 90 Hertz||Increased muscle contraction||pain treatment pain treatment|
Patients receiving therapy with a Hertz frequency between 80 and 150 generally experience pain relief. You feel a kind of tingling in the painful part of your body. In the lower frequency ranges, pain should be attenuated. The longer the pain has been present, the more therapy sessions are usually needed to achieve long-term improvements.
Don't ignore the extra pain
If additional pain occurs, patients should discontinue therapy immediately and seek medical advice before proceeding with intended use.
What level of intensity makes sense?
The intensity level should match your heart rate. These two criteria are interdependent. The same applies here: anyone who is unsure should see a doctor, even if they are seeking self-therapy. In electrical stimulation therapy, users apply low frequencies along with higher intensities - and vice versa.
Maximum current is measured in units of milliamps (mA). It describes the strength of the flowing current, i.e. the highest possible intensity level. As a rule, a TENS device has a maximum current of 50 to 80 milliamps. Beginners use lower amperages than experienced consumers.
It makes sense if the devices offer the possibility to set the current individually. This allows users to experiment which strength is best for them on which days. After all, the sensitivity of the body varies from day to day or from week to week.
Pulse duration, also called pulse width, is measured in microseconds (μs). Thus, the unit denotes the duration or width of the pulses per second. Typically, a TENS reading is between about 80 and 200 microseconds. The longer the pulse duration, the deeper the current pulse goes.
The shape of the pulse is also called the direction of current flow. Current can flow in one direction, single-phase, or in both directions, two-phase. If the impulses flow in both directions, the muscle is relieved more than in the monophasic impulse form. So devices with biphasic pulse shape are recommended if users only set low frequencies.
Manufacturers offer TENS devices with rechargeable batteries, batteries or power packs. The most common way is with batteries. It is recommended to choose a product that displays the state of charge of the battery so that the therapy is not interrupted unintentionally. Batteries and rechargeable batteries offer maximum flexibility. Users can take the devices anywhere. Some products have a power adapter.
While there are no accompanying costs for purchasing additional batteries, the advantage of flexible usage is lost. The useful life of used batteries depends on the frequency of use. As a rule, good batteries last for almost three months with daily use or several weeks.
Most TENS products have an LC display which is used for operation. It should be easy to read and ideally have a backlight. Consumers in particular who are using a TENS device for the first time need intuitive handling and good operating instructions.
TENS products are usually no bigger than a smartphone and don't weigh more than 150 grams. Also interesting is the universal connection option for the electrodes. Some manufacturers also offer replacement pads or other pad sizes.
It makes sense to purchase a waist bag for storage if this is not included in the scope of delivery. The market also offers specially designed bags. As these are products for medical use, storage for hygiene reasons is an important aspect.