Among the many Complementary Alternative Medical (CAM) treatments that are commonly used in the treatment of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS, is an effective method of pain relief that involves no drug interactions, is non-addictive and non-invasive, and has no harmful side effects.
How TENS Therapy is Applied
Pain relief occurs when electrodes are attached to specific spots on the patient’s skin after a special steroidal cream has been applied. A mild electrical current is administered, targeted at the trouble area in which pain is being experienced.
Some patients who have difficulty in traveling to a facility at which TENS therapy is available may be given a portable TENS stimulator unit by a doctor’s prescription, enabling them to self-administer the therapy. These portable units range in size from that of a small portable radio to no bigger than an ATM or credit card.
Although mankind did not learn how to harness and control electrical energy for practical applications until well into the 19th Century, the use of electrical stimulation in order to control pain goes back far into antiquity. In the Year 63 of the Common Era (A.D.), Scribonius Largus, court physician to the Roman emperor Claudius reported seeing patients in Greece standing atop electric eels near the shore. Crude and primitive electrostatic devices (instruments using “static” electricity such as occurs when people walk across carpeted floors) were employed from the 1500s up through the Age of Enlightenment; Benjamin Franklin was among those who experimented with this method of pain relief.
The “electreat” was a device invented around the beginning of the 20th Century, and was only one of several such devices that were claimed to provide “cures” for everything from headaches to cancer, but were in fact little more than torture devices.
The first modern, portable TENS unit, the Medtronic Device, was patented in 1974, originally for the purpose of testing patients’ tolerance to electrical stimulation prior to the implantation of electrodes. As it turned out, patients got sufficient relief simply from the electrical stimulation; the implants turned out to be unnecessary.
How TENS Therapy Works
TENS therapy is not a cure, nor even a treatment for malignant mesothelioma or other cancers beyond palliative effects. While it is known to result in effective pain relief, physicians and medical researchers are still not completely sure how this happens.
It seems apparent that the physical warmth produced by the procedure and applied to the affected tissues works much in the same way as a heating pad. However, the most widely accepted theory is that like massage and acupuncture, TENS is a therapy that stimulates bodily production of its own natural analgesics, hormones known as endorphins. Alternatively, some researchers believe that the electrical current may actually scramble nerve impulses that send pain signals to the brain.
Who Should Not Receive TENS Therapy
Because it involves the passage of electrical current into the body, TENS is not recommended for people who have heart problems and are therefore using a pacemaker, as the current may interfere with the proper function of such a device.
In addition, people who suffer from epilepsy should not use a TENS device.
Those who do use a TENS generator on themselves must be cautious and use the device only as directed by their physician. Electrodes should never be placed on the following areas:
- Numb or desensitized skin
- Open sores or wounds
- Trigeminal nerve (fifth cranial, along the jaw)