A Guide to Treating Neuropathy Using TENS Therapy
Neuropathy is a painful and uncomfortable condition. Those who are diagnosed with it often are prescribed tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) as a first line of treatment. Some are also prescribed serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), as well as a variety of other options. Many people, unsurprisingly, are looking for more natural ways to treat their neuropathy, particularly because this can help them avoid the various side effects that come with drugs. One such option is TENS (transcutaneous electrical stimulation) therapy.
What Is It?
TENS is an affordable way to treat your neuropathy without needing to see a doctor. A handheld device sends electrical impulses to the nerves, so that they are more stimulated rather than being in pain. Most people use this kind of therapy together with other forms of medication.
How Does It Work?
TENS is a very common form of treatment for pain. In fact, it was first developed towards the end of the 1990s. Essentially, electrodes are place near where the pain is, on the skin itself. Then, transcutaneous electrical impulses regulate how pain impulses are sent to the brain, by stopping pre-synaptic transmission of the spinal cord's dorsal horn. This, in turn, stops nociceptive stimuli. Additionally, it is believed that this therapy also provides endogenous pain control by stimulating dynorphins, endorphins, and enkephalins.
What Are the Reported Benefits?
It has a number of key reported benefits, such as:
- Relief from pain
- Better sleep
- Improved healing and circulation
- Increased function and motion
- Reduction of the need for analgesic drugs and painkillers
How Quickly Does It Bring Relief and Results?
TENS can be applied for as short a period as half an hour, to continuously. The duration of the treatment can be a few days, or even months. Three settings are available:
- Pulsed, through high-frequency bursts
- Acupuncture-like, which provides a high intensity stimulus but cannot be used for long periods due to levels of tolerance
How quickly the treatment will work depends on the setting, how often it is used, how long it is used, and on the individual.
How Long Does the Pain Relief Last?
TENS pain relief can last for anything from a few hours to a few days. Those who apply it continuously tend to have the greatest relief, as the impulses are sent all the time.
Are There Scientific Studies about This Treatment?
Scientists agree that this therapy can provide excellent pain relief, particularly when people first start using it. However, it is not clear how effective this will be on the long term. Unfortunately, there have been significant methodological inconsistencies during studies, not in the least that the sample sizes were very small. Overall, some patients will feel benefits that are enduring, whereas others will only feel it during the stimulation itself.
What Were the Results of These Studies?
- The American Academy of Neurology's Therapeutics and Technology Assessment Subcommittee concluded in 2010 that TENS is "probably effective" as a method for treating neuropathy. They now recommend it for people diagnosed with the condition. They reached this conclusion after reviewing two cohort studies that met their criteria for inclusion.
- Also in 2010, the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine published an article that said there was sufficient, consistent evidence to show that this is effective. Based on one small study and three large studies that meet their criteria for inclusion, they now recommend it as a neuropathy treatment.
- Still in 2010, there was a meta-analysis of three randomized controlled trials, in which 78 patients were involved. All trials met the inclusion criteria. This found that, at four and six weeks of treatment, there was a significant reduction in pain. Additionally, at 12 weeks, the neuropathic pain symptoms had subjectively improve significantly. There were no reported negative side effects, which led to the method being recommended for those with neuropathy.
What Are the Most Common Side Effects?
Generally speaking, there are few reported negative side effects associated with TENS. However, some drawbacks have been reported, including:
- Skin irritation
- Hypersensitivity skin reactions
- Skin burns
- That it cannot be used by people with pacemakers
- That it cannot be used by women who are pregnant, as it may induce labor
Are These Side Effects Common?
How common the side effects are will vary per effect. In general:
- Skin irritation is seen in one in every three people. This is caused by the electrode gel drying. This can be avoided by properly using the equipment, in which medical professionals can play an important role.
- Hypersensitivity skin reactions is not very common and generally only happens when people have allergies to the electrode tape. It can be avoided, therefore, by changing the tape, using self-adhesive electrodes, or making sure not to use the exact same spot of skin with every treatment.
- Skin burns are very uncommon and only happen if someone used the TENS in the wrong way, for a long period of time. However, due to this possibility, patients should never apply the electrodes in areas where they have very little sensation, so that they do not accidentally develop burns.
Who Is the Treatment Best For?
The method is particularly recommended for people with diabetic neuropathy.
How Much Does It Cost?
Price depends on the brand of TENS machine. Most good models are available for around $100. You do also have to buy gel and tape to keep the electrodes in place, but those are minor costs.
What's the Best Way to Find/Try the Treatment?
Most pharmacies have machines that you can try. Your physician may also prescribe one for you for a short period of time. You can purchase the machines in most drug stores, larger department stores, medical stores, and online.
What Are Some of the Other Possible Treatment Methods?
Conventional treatment for neuropathy involves the use of pharmaceutical products. The list of these options is almost endless, ranging from over the counter topical solutions to opioid painkillers. For many, however, these types of treatment options are not truly beneficial, and often only mask the problem. As a result, they prefer to look for alternative options that are more natural and that actually solve the problem itself. The Nerve Renew supplement has proven to be particularly popular, as it is a natural solution without side effects.
Other options for treating neuropathy include:
Considering that neuropathy significantly reduces someone's quality of life, trying TENS may be a good option for them. It can be used at home without any dangers. This is particularly true when used in combination with a supplement such as Nerve Renew.