Upper Back Physical Therapy with TENS Electrode Pads, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation

Best TENS Machine Australia -
The Ultimate Pain Relief Device

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) – sounds like quite a complicated combination of terms, which at first glance can seem like a terrifying procedure. On the contrary, TENS is a very useful procedure for managing chronic and acute pain. Hopefully this article will help clarify how this technique works and give you a better overview of the usefulness of such a procedure.

What is TENS?

In order to get a better understanding of this particular technique, let’s break down the acronym:

  • T – Transcutaneous – this basically means that procedure is performed through the skin.
  • E – Electrical – TENS works by delivering a small amount of electrical current through the body in the form of pulses. Special electrodes are attached to the surface of the skin, so transcutaneous electrical pulses are transmitted into the body.
  • N – Nerve – this part of the acronym refers to the target area that TENS works on. Through this procedure, the electrical pulse sent through the skin barrier is thought to reach the nerves in the body.
  • S – Stimulation – this final segment of the acronym explains that the main mechanism of this technique is to stimulate the nerves in the body through the application of electrical pulses.

A TENS machine, therefore, is a small device that delivers a mild electrical current to stimulate the nervous system through the surface of the skin. It consists of two main parts: a battery-operated main body that generates and controls the electrical current, and electrodes (sticky pads) that adhere to the surface of the skin, which are connected to the main body through wires.

How does TENS work?

Whenever you connect the TENS machine and attach the electrodes to an area of your skin, the mild electrical impulses are thought to activate neuronal networks in the body and reduce pain sensations. Although the scientific literature on the subject of TENS efficacy is somewhat conflicting, a growing number of meta-analyses and systemic reviews are supporting the presence of pain-relieving beneficial effects.

It is thought that the electrical stimulation sent through the electrodes to the nerve endings in the body activate certain neuronal pathways that result in the inhibition of pain sensations. Depending on the frequency and intensity of the electrical impulses, the analgesic effect also varies.

Although there is not a lot of evidence for the effectiveness of TENS, some individuals suffering from chronic musculoskeletal forms of pain have found this method particularly helpful for their pain management. If you are interested in learning more about this technique and the different models available on the Australian market in 2020, this article should be very helpful.

What You Need to Know and Consider Before Purchasing a TENS Machine

If you’ve never had a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation treatment before it might be difficult to know the important factors that you need to consider when looking to purchase a machine for yourself. To make your purchasing decision slightly easier, here is a list of features that you should keep an eye on.

woman in towel with electrode pads

1.Why do you want to purchase a TENS machine?

As we’ve briefly mentioned earlier, TENS machines are known to provide an analgesic effect and can be quite useful for pain management. However, it’s important to understand that depending on the therapeutic settings, i.e., the intensity and frequency of the electrical impulses, TENS can be used for a variety of different pain related conditions. Therefore, it might be useful to consult a medical professional regarding your pain and get an expert’s assessment on the therapeutic treatment plan best suited for you with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.

2.What kind of therapeutic mode and intensity level are you looking for?

This is an important factor to consider, since pain stemming from different regions in your body require different levels of electrical impulse frequency and intensity to produce a pain-relieving effect. A clear example for such a scenario would be to compare chronic pain in your back and shoulders to pain in the abdomen from menstrual cramps. Obviously, the lower abdomen is a much more sensitive area, therefore would require a lower level of intensity for pain relief. Be sure to check that the TENS machine you are interested in purchasing has the adequate level of intensity to match your needs.

3.How many channels do you want your TENS machine to have?

Apart from regulating the frequency and intensity level of the electrical impulses, some TENS machines will have different numbers of channels that can be used. The channels in these scenarios are essentially the number of settings that can be used simultaneously. So, if the TENS machine you are interested in claims to have 2 channels, it means that this particular device can be used for 2 different areas of the body at the same time. These two channels are capable of delivering differing signals, to accommodate the different areas of your body simultaneously. But this of course is simply an added feature, a simple TENS device with one single channel is sufficient in stimulating one particular area that seems to cause you pain and discomfort.

Tens machine and electrode pads

4.What kind of pads does the model you are interested in have?

Now this particular criterion is important for the long-term maintenance of your TENS machine. Since these machines can be quite pricey, it is important to ensure that the money spent on the acquisition of a device is worth the investment. When you look on the market, you will notice that TENS machines tend to vary in the type, number and size of pads that accompany the device. These pads are an important part of the device, since they are the primary area of contact with your skin. You want the pads to be of good enough quality to last you years of use. They should maintain their stickiness after numerous uses and should also be large or small enough to stimulate the area of your body that requires pain relief. In the case that you do need to replace the pads of your TENS machine, you should ensure that purchasing them separately is also an option provided by the manufacturers. The last thing you want is to have a useless TENS machine simply because of the unavailability of extra pads for replacement.

5.What kind of power source does the TENS machine of your interest depend on?

Normally, most TENS machines available on the market will run on either batteries or will be rechargeable via a USB port. Although batteries might seem like the easier option, in the current day and age, opting for the USB rechargeable models is more cost and environmentally friendly in the long run. With the rechargeable option though, you might want to keep an eye on the battery life and how long the device would take to recharge.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Units Available in Australia 2021

BEST OVERALL

Belifu Best Overall TENS unit
  • Budget Friendly
  • 24 different frequencies and 20 intensity levels

If you are relatively new to the field of electrical stimulation therapy and want to try out a device without breaking your bank, this model is perfect for you. Generally speaking, TENS machines can get quite expensive (around $100-200) so it is perfectly understandable to hesitate with such a purchase. You will be surprised to know that the Belifu Dual Channel TENS unit is not only incredibly cheap ($35) but also works like a charm.

As you can guess from the name, this model has two channels, meaning that two separate body regions can be stimulated simultaneously to achieve pain relief. This device is packed with 24 different frequency modes and 20 different levels of intensity, so as you can imagine, there is ample room for experimenting and finding which program works best for you.

When purchasing, the unit comes with three different sizes of electrode pads and three wires to connect to the main battery source. It lasts a very long time without re-charging and seems to be very compact and portable too! All in all, this TENS unit seems like a bargain for the price. Don’t be scared away by the many-many settings, the device comes with a handy little guide to instruct you the therapeutic methods for treating different types of pains.

Pros

  • Budget friendly
  • 2 Channels with 24 different frequencies
  • Come with multiple size pads
  • Long battery life

Cons

  • Can appear complicated to use 

Livia menstrual pain TENS Machine
  • Designed to relieve menstrual pain
  • Large abdominal and lower back electrode pads
  • Portable and discreet

Menstrual cramps are a pain that half of the world’s population experience, yet one that we can’t seem to get rid of once and for all. It’s unpleasant and sadly occurs to women every month. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation surprisingly has an incredible effect on reducing the amount of pain felt during the time before and after menstruation. Some females even report its beneficial effects on managing endometriosis pains.

The Livia Off Switch for Menstrual Pain is a safe and effective TENS machine that provides a tremendous amount of relief from menstrual pains. The treatment effect is non-invasive, yet still quite powerful. It’s quite small and compact, so users can receive electrical impulses discretely throughout the day. It’s the size and shape of an airpods case, which make it easy to hide in pockets of jeans while using throughout the day. The battery life lasts about 3-4 hours, although for people experiencing painful cramps throughout the entire day, this time frame may not be enough. Still, some users have reported to experience a relief from the pains for 3-4 hours after using the Livia, which is about the same time that traditional painkillers would work.

Importantly, this TENS unit works with only one channel, so perhaps if you are someone who experiences both lower back and abdominal pains during your periods, it might not be the best product for you. It won’t be possible to send two separate therapeutic settings simultaneously using this device, however an option would be to alternate the positioning of the electrodes.

Pros

  • Ideal for discreet use during the day
  • Helps manage endometriosis pains
  • No bigger than an airpods case

Cons

  • Battery life only last 3-4hours

Omron HV-F021 Tens machine and pads
  • 9 settings specific to certain body placements
  • Treats cause of pain through massage settings
  • Improves blood circulation

Most TENS units seem to have a beneficial effect on managing back pains, but our research into the market finds the Omron HV – F021 Electronic Nerve Stimulator to be the best for this target area.

This particular TENS machine is perfect for treating pains across the back because of a small but significant list of reasons. First, it has 9 powerful therapy modes, designed to target different specific regions of the body: waist/lower back, shoulders, joints, legs and feet. The company has created 9 perfect settings, which are not too many to make you lost in the programs, and not too few to make you wish for an alternative option.

Secondly, this TENS unit incorporates three different massaging options into the therapy: tapping, rubbing and kneading. This is particularly beneficial for treating pain stemming from the back, since with a combinatory approach of massage therapy and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation you are treating both the symptoms and the root causes of the pain (perhaps muscle tension, knots or stiffness). This technique improves blood circulation in the region, allowing the release of endorphins which in turn, facilitates the pain relieving effects of the TENS.

This machine is portable, light and includes electrode pads that can be re-used up to 300 times. Overall, if you are searching for a device that can target your back pain, the Omron HV – F021 Electronic Nerve Stimulator is the one for you.

Pros

  • Comes with reusable electrode pads
  • 9 therapy modes catering to different body parts
  • Improves blood flow

Cons

  • Triple AAA Battery powered 

Labour specific TensCare Perfect mamaTENS
  • Recommended by midwives
  • Easy to use by mothers
  • Large abdominal and lower back electrode pads

Labour is an immensely beautiful yet painful part of a woman’s pregnancy. It is a type of pain that is felt in the abdomen, groin, back and sometimes thighs. The pain can be extreme and cannot be treated with painkillers to ensure the safety of the baby being delivered. The reasoning for this, is that while the baby is in the uterus of the mother, they are connected via the umbilical cord. So, any medication that the mother takes, will ultimately reach the child’s system as well.

For these reasons, using transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation at low frequencies and intensities can be a great alternative for mothers in labour to relieve their pain.

The TensCare Perfect mamaTENS is specifically designed for this purpose. It has three pre-set programs and includes four larger electrode pads. The large size of the pads allows for maximum area coverage, to ensure that the most nerves are targeted. It also has up to 60 modes of intensity which can be easily tailored by the mother to truly be in control of the pain management throughout childbirth. This mamaTENS also has a rapid Boost Button that provides a quick added boost of pain relief.

It also contains two channels, meaning that both the abdominal and the lower back regions can be treated simultaneously. It’s the perfect addition to ensure a safe and less painful child delivery for both the mother and the midwives helping her.

Pros

  • Larger electrode pads
  • Two channels to allow use on abdominal and back area
  • Easy to use controls 

Cons

  • AA Battery powered

Verdict

Generally speaking, TENS devices are a genius way of managing pain in a more holistic and non-medication mediated approach. Depending on your pain management needs, we’ve provided you with a handy little guide of the different TENS units available to the Australian market in 2020.

Our verdict for the best menstrual pain management TENS unit is the Livia Off Switch for Menstrual Pain (Number 1 in our review). The compactness and ease of use made this particular TENS device stand out from the other models available on the Australian Market.

For the management of labour related pain, we found that the TensCare Perfect mamaTENS (Number 4 in our review) is the best model to opt for. It’s incredibly easy to use and allows for the mother-to-be to control the levels of pain she experiences in childbirth in real time.

The best budget TENS machine was by far the Belifu Dual Channel TENS EMS Unit (Number 2 in our review). For as little as $35, this device gives the user a wonderful glimpse into the effectiveness of TENS as a therapeutic treatment option for pain management.

Finally, the best TENS device for specifically managing back pain was the Omron HV – F021 Electronic Nerve Stimulator (Number 3 in our review). It’s smart combination of massage therapy together with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation made this the best therapeutic model for managing pains ranging from the lower back all the way up to the shoulders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation cause any side effects?

Generally speaking, TENS is a relatively safe procedure. Most people can safely use this method for pain relief without experiencing any unwanted side effects. However, there are certain groups of people who should consult a medical practitioner before committing to a TENS machine. These groups of people include those who have heart related issues and/or have a pacemaker inserted in their heart. On the same note, anyone with any other type of metal/electronic implant should not use a TENS machine without a proper medical consult first. Women at early stages of pregnancy are also not recommended to use TENS.

What kinds of pain can be treated with TENS?

It’s first important to understand that pain is the first indication in your body that something is wrong. Pain should not be directly ignored or treated symptomatically, since it could be a warning sign for a deeper, more serious underlying issue. For these reasons you should consult a medical practitioner first before using TENS for pain management.

Now after consulting a professional, you will get to know that TENS can be used to treat musculoskeletal pains, sports injuries, phantom limb pain, aching joints, sciatica, menstrual and labour pains, and even headaches and migraines. The treatment of these different pain types will vary in terms of electrical impulse intensity, frequency and localization of the electrodes.

Can TENS be used in combination with other pain medication?

Yes. Generally speaking, TENS is safe to combine with other pain managing medication, however most users seem to report that after a few sessions of TENS, the need for pain medication is drastically reduced. So, in some scenario’s TENS can replace the use of pain medication.

This is particularly true in for example, childbirth pain management, where no alternative pain medications can be used.

How quickly does the pain relief come from using a TENS machine?

Depending on the frequency and intensity of the electrical impulses, pain relief from using TENS can be instantaneous, or take a while to achieve. Normally conventional TENS machines offer immediate pain relief. But this might be a matter of finding the best location for the placement of electrodes on the skin.

How long does the analgesic effect last after using TENS?

Again, depending on the frequency and intensity of the electrical impulses, some users report having gotten rid of the pain for the entire day, while others say that some repeated treatment within a certain time frame is necessary.

How long can you use the TENS machine at a time?

Generally, TENS is very safe, therefore it can be used for as long as needed throughout the day. However, in most scenarios it’s wiser to limit the time of use to up to 40 minutes at a time. But considering this, it is very safe to repeat the treatment as many times throughout the day as needed.

Is the TENS portable?

Yes! Most TENS units nowadays are small, light and compact. This allows them to be easily carried around with you throughout the day, without disrupting your daily routine. To ensure that your device is durable, make sure to check the material and if there are any guarantee options available from the producer. If you plan on using your TENS machine everywhere you go, you want to ensure that it lasts you a long time too.

How expensive is a TENS unit?

The price for a typical TENS unit varies, depending on the number of settings and intensities that are present in the machine, the portability and compactness, and the battery life. Generally speaking, it is possible to find a TENS machine between the range of $30 to $300. (1–4)

References

  • Wright A. Exploring the evidence for using TENS to relieve pain. Nurs Times. 2012;108(11):20–3.
  • Johnson M. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation : Mechanisms, clinical application and evidence. Rev Pain. 2008;1(1).
  • Vance CGT, Dailey DL, Rakel BA, Sluka KA. Using TENS for pain control: the state of the evidence. Pain Manag. 2014;4(3):197–209.
  • Crawford C, Boyd C, Paat CF, Price A, Xenakis L, Yang EM, et al. The impact of massage therapy on function in pain populations-a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials: Part I, patients experiencing pain in the general population. Pain Med (United States). 2016;17(7):1353–75.

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