Shoulder pain is an ailment that affects nearly everyone at some point in life and ranks as one of the foremost causes of disability. After all, the shoulders are an integral part of the body, and when injured, it hinders nearly every facet of our daily life. Thankfully, several treatment options are effective in reducing or eliminating shoulder pain, and one of the most popular is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Here is the ultimate guide on TENS therapy for shoulder pain.
What is a TENS Unit for Shoulder Pain?
A TENS unit is a mobile device that uses electricity to shock the areas of your body that are in pain – in this case, the shoulders. This subtle jolt of electricity is delivered from the TENS unit to the body via wires connected to electrodes or TENS pads.
Using a TENS machine for shoulder pain is very convenient because the device is battery operated and, thus, can be easily transported and utilized. In addition, many patients have a TENS unit at home, where they undertake therapy sessions.
Can You Use a TENS Unit on Your Shoulder?
Several research studies have been conducted regarding the efficacy of TENS for shoulder pain and chronic shoulder tendonitis, and the results were astonishing. TENS therapy significantly reduced shoulder pain in nearly all participants for up to ninety days; however, the pain did return slowly about one month after therapy.
What's more, not only was TENS unit shoulder treatment effective in reducing pain, but patients reported that there were no adverse effects. And that's how to use a TENS unit for shoulder pain!
Types of Shoulder Pain TENS Units Treat
The TENS Unit can be used to treat an array of shoulder pain types, both acute and chronic, including:
Rotator cuff tears. The muscles and tendons surrounding the humeral head are known as the rotator cuff. As we age, these tendons become weaker; if overstrained, they can rupture or tear. Studies have indicated that using a TENS unit for rotator cuff tears is beneficial in reducing the overall level of pain in the shoulder area.
Shoulder bursitis. Typically resulting from the impingement of the subacromial bursa between the acromion bone and rotator cuff, bursitis is inflammation in the shoulder. Employing a TENS machine for shoulder bursitis helps to relieve the inflamed tendons of the affected shoulder.
Frozen shoulder. Also known as adhesive capsulitis, a frozen shoulder is a painful shoulder ailment with no known cause. As the symptoms of frozen shoulder progress, the muscles and tendons become increasingly stiff, and any movement tends to cause severe pain. While utilizing the TENS unit for frozen shoulder does aid in significantly reducing pain and stiffness, it is unlikely to eliminate all pain in the shoulder.
Pinched nerve. As a result of the nerves in the neck being squeezed by the surrounding structure, a pinched nerve in the shoulder is quite common. The pinching of this nerve can cause numbness in the adjoining arm and hand. By using a TENS unit for a pinched nerve in the shoulder, you will decrease the pain, as well as the numbness associated with the issue.
Shoulder Impingement. Similar to bursitis TENS unit placement, shoulder impingement leads to inflammation of the area, with the pain usually felt on the skin. Applying a TENS machine for shoulder impingement causes a decrease in inflammation, which in turn lowers the pain level in the shoulder area.
Where to Place TENS Electrodes for Shoulder Pain
Shoulder pain TENS unit shoulder placement is crucial to the effectiveness of the treatment. If the electrodes are not positioned correctly, the slight electrical shocks will not reach the issue that is causing the shoulder pain.
Fortunately, for most shoulder pain problems, placing the electrodes is easy. Locate the spot on your shoulder where the pain is the worst and place each of the two pads side-by-side atop the location.
Tips for Placing TENS Unit Electrodes for Rotator Cuff Tears
Rotator cuff TENS shoulder placement varies slightly from the TENS placement for shoulder pain because rotator cuff issues are located deeper within the tissue. Therefore, rather than positioning the electrode pads side-by-side, rotator cuff TENS placement is undertaken by placing one electrode pad on the front side of the shoulder and the other TENS pad on the backside of the shoulder.
This strategic positioning allows the electrical shocks from the unit to disrupt the pain signals the brain receives from the nerves in the shoulder, thus reducing pain.
How to Adjust the TENS Unit Settings
Depending on your TENS unit, you will most likely have to adjust the device settings to find the proper level of pain relief, and these settings include:
Setting TENS Unit Mode
Most TENS machines feature three modes: normal, burst, and modulation. The burst setting is the most effective in eliminating chronic shoulder pain among these three modes. However, through the process of trial and error, you will be able to find a mode setting that meets your needs.
Setting TENS Unit Frequency (Pulse Rate)
A TENS unit's frequency or pulse rate is determined by the number of shocks per second, measured in Hertz (Hz). As the frequency changes, so do the unit's effect on shoulder pain. For instance, a rate of 2hz to 10hz is recommended for chronic pain, and a rate of 35hz to 50hz for muscle stimulation. Lastly, a rate of 80hz to 120hz is the optimal frequency for acute shoulder pain.
Setting the TENS Unit Pulse Width
The duration in which each pulse lingers is known as the pulse width, and by increasing the width, you can increase the power of your TENS machine. The average pulse is measured in microseconds, so keep in mind that when you adjust the pulse width, you may not visibly notice any difference, but you can rest assured that your nerves will take notice. As with other TENS unit settings, you must experiment with the settings to find out which one is most effective for you.
Shoulder Pain Begone with TENS Therapy
Shoulder pain is a debilitating issue that affects millions of people across the globe. However, numerous treatments are designed to aid in reducing acute and chronic shoulder pain, and one of the foremost is TENS unit therapy. TENS therapy utilizes low-current electrical shocks to mix up the pain signals sent from the shoulder's nerves to the brain.This mixing of signals leads to a drastic reduction in shoulder pain. So, if you are suffering from pain, try TENS therapy for shoulder pain.
Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.
Pain sucks. It affects millions of people each year with adverse physical and mental side effects. TENS 7000 provides tools to combat pain and let people live life on their terms, pain-free. Our TENS 7000 TENS Unit is one of the top-rated over-the-counter TENS units, having sold over two million since 2008. Stop letting aches and pain hold you back — live life on your terms.
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