A Closer Look at TENS Devices

June 23, 2017 • Shai Gozani

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Those living with chronic pain know that there isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to finding relief. While there are myriad options available, it can be challenging to find the right combination of therapies that will fit within an individual’s lifestyle while alleviating pain. One treatment modality that chronic pain sufferers may discover during their research is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS.

What is TENS?

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is the delivery of electrical current across the surface of the skin to activate the underlying sensory nerves and provide pain relief. The technology was originally developed in the 1970s as a screening technique for predicting which chronic pain patients would respond to implantable stimulators. However, many patients were getting relief from TENS alone, leading to the adoption of this technology as a pain relief therapy in and of itself. TENS typically is delivered with a small electronic machine that generates the electricity which is then delivered through a set of connected electrodes. A user places the electrodes on the skin – most often at the area of pain – to facilitate electrical current to flow into and out of body. The stimulation current from the TENS device activates electrical impulses that travel along the nerve fibers.

Navigating the TENS Spectrum

There are a variety of TENS devices available to treat many different forms of pain. People often ask if Quell is a TENS device and, if it is, what distinguishes it from other TENS devices found in pharmacies, retail stores or in clinician offices. While Quell and other devices are all considered TENS devices, they should be thought of as sitting on a neurostimulation spectrum, rather than within a single category.

At one end of the spectrum, are traditional over-the-counter TENS devices that offer low dose electrical stimulation and are designed for short term use. These devices are intended to provide localized pain relief and must be placed at the site of pain. At the other end of the spectrum, are implantable spinal cord stimulators that are surgically placed adjacent to the spine to provide continuous pain relief for severe intractable chronic back pain.

So where does Quell fall along this spectrum? Quell was designed to deliver stimulation with therapeutic effect approaching that of an implantable device, but in a wearable, non-invasive form. Quell is up to 15 times more powerful than ordinary over the counter TENS devices. It is designed for intensive, long term use. By delivering a higher dosage of neurostimulation via the sensory nerves in the upper calf, Quell is able to trigger the release of the body’s natural pain blocking chemicals to provide widespread pain relief – so users don’t have to wear the device on the area where they’re experiencing pain.

Should you try TENS?

Anyone living with chronic pain should consider TENS devices as a part of their treatment toolbox. With so many options available, understanding the differences between them should help make the process of finding the right device or therapy easier.  It is important to remember that not all TENS are the same, and recent innovations like Quell hold promise to make a meaningful impact on chronic pain.

 

 

 


About The Author
Shai Gozani
Shai Gozani

Dr. Gozani currently serves as Chairman of the board of directors and President and Chief Executive Officer of NeuroMetrix, Inc. NeuroMetrix is a commercial stage, innovation driven healthcare company combining bioelectrical and digital medicine to address chronic health conditions including chronic pain, sleep disorders, and diabetes. The company’s lead product is Quell, an over-the-counter wearable therapeutic device for chronic pain. The company is located in Waltham, Massachusetts and was founded as a spinoff from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in 1996.


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