Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, commonly known as TENS, is a medical device that treats various forms of pain. The unit works by sending electrical impulses through electrodes attached to the skin. TENS units are usually battery powered and can fit in a pocket. They have effectively treated pain ranging from short-term discomfort from recent surgery to chronic pain due to arthritis or back problems. While the TENS unit is generally considered a safe and drug-free pain treatment option, there are some risks associated with the devices.
People with pacemakers shouldn't use a TENS device without consulting a physician. The device's electrical impulses can affect some pacemakers. If you have a bipolar pacemaker the TENS unit may not cause any problems, while a unipolar pacemaker could have some irregularities. You can reprogram your pacemaker to allow for TENS use, according to the Staten Island Heart website. But consult a physician about the risks prior to using the TENS with any type of pacemaker.
Pregnant women sometimes used TENS devices to manage labor pain under close medical supervision. The pain relief may not be equal to other drug-related pain treatments like an epidural, but this is why some women prefer it. The use of a TENS during labor is not considered a risk, but its affect on unborn children is unknown. It is not recommended that pregnant women use the devices prior to the third trimester. Even then, it is important to consult your physician. The electrodes of the TENS should never be placed over the uterus area regardless of the trimester, according to the Birth Source website.
Head and Neck
TENS electrodes can be placed in various spots on the body to help relieve pain, but there are some patients who should not use them on the head or neck. If you suffer from seizures or convulsions or have blood or blood vessel disorders, then you shouldn't place the TENS electrodes on your head or neck, according to the Drugs.com website. And no one should ever place the electrodes on the anterior part of the neck or over the carotid sinus.
One potential risk of the TENS unit is not understanding what the device accomplishes. The TENS simply blocks pain in your brain, but it doesn't eliminate the cause. For some, the relief provided by the TENS could make them neglect the problem and not see a physician. During this time a problem could get worse. A TENS unit should only be used under doctor supervision.