You’ve probably seen the TV ads with Shaquille O’Neal all fired up about Icy Hot Smart Relief. The NBA giant touts the benefits of treating back pain with a little gizmo using TENS therapy.
TENS? What the heck is that?
TENS is short for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, a drug-free alternative for treating pain.
It basically consists of pulsed, low-intensity currents. Put the zapper where it hurts and it sends out stimulating electrical pulses to block pain signals to the brain. It won’t make your hair stand on end or stop your heart. There’s not enough volts for that.
Physical therapists have long used big tabletop TENS models to treat pain.
There’s lots of portable TENS devices sold at stores or online for $20 to $100 for home use. Most are about the size of a deck of cards or smaller. Some have wires that attach to adhesive electrode pads that adhere to wherever the ail is.
Shaq’s push-button device ($30) is wireless and uses a watch battery. It goes up to 63 intensity levels.
“I like it extra-tingly,” the king of pain says in the commercial.
To be serious, do these things really work?
A co-worker swears by an inexpensive TENS device she got off Amazon for relief from chronic tendonitis pain in her upper arm and shoulder. Sure, Shaq’s aches came from 19 seasons of taking a basketball beating, but her pain is just as real from decades of sitting at a desk using a mouse.
Like Shaq, she likes to pump up the TENS sensations.
Nancy Campbell, owner of Therapeutic Resources in Mill Creek, markets a $275 unit that does both TENS and CES.
CES, which stands for Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation, is for treating stress-related anxiety, depression and insomnia. It stimulates the head with a low current.
“It balances neurotransmitters in the brain,” Campbell said.
Pain and stress often go hand-in-hand, she said, so this device can be used for both, though not at the same time.
For TENS, the unit has lead wires and electrodes. For CES application, it has bifurcated lead wire and a set of ear clips.
“This is not snake oil,” Campbell said.
It is not for people with severe mental illnesses.