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22. TENS Units Provide Good Pain Relief

TENS Units Provide Good Pain Relief

As an occupational therapist, I help workers return to full work duties as quickly as possible.  An injured worker is often trying to manage pain so that function, strength and range of motion improve.  Oral pain relievers can be problematic, with unintended negative side-effects, limited pain control, and dependency issues commonly experienced.  A TENS unit is a brilliant solution for muscle and joint pain management.

A TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) unit is a simple, battery-powered device that delivers a very mild, pleasant stimulation to the painful site.   A TENS unit is indicated for chronic, post-surgical, and post-trauma acute pain.  It really works well to reduce severe pain to very low levels of pain, but it can also take the pain down to zero.  When pain is low, exercises are tolerated better, sleep is improved, and return-to-work occurs sooner. 

Insurances, including workers’ compensation, Medicare, and private health insurance companies are typically quick to pay for a TENS unit because they save money.  Insurance companies recognize the following benefits of using TENS:

  • Decreases pain, increases activity, and promotes return-to-work
  • Reduces the need for pain medicine (and the costly, dangerous side effects)
  • Reduces the need for PT/OT services
  • Has no known side effects, no risk of overdosing, and no drug interference
  • Helps patients remain alert, functional, and productive
  • Puts patients in charge of their pain control

A physician must order the TENS unit, but an OT or PT must issue the device and instruct on proper, effective use.  If the unit doesn’t help decrease pain, it is mailed back to the company and insurance isn’t charged.  A TENS unit may help decrease the pain for back pain, fibromyalgia, shoulder and knee pain, and other similar muscle and joint pain issues.  Contact your favorite OT or PT, or your doctor for a trial.

Written by Flint Stearns, OTR/L

Published June 2012

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