One of the major issues associated with fibromyalgia is pain control. Not every fibromyalgia patient responds well to an individual therapy. You may have to try several treatments to find what works best for you.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS (pronounced ‘TENZ’) is a therapy that some fibromyalgia patients have found to be an effective aid in pain control. Electrodes are connected to the skin and an electrical current is passed through the skin. A TENS unit can be set in a variety of ways, giving the therapist the ability to control both frequency and intensity which can be helpful in tailoring the treatment to the individual. In general, TENS is administered at a high frequency but with intensity below that which is needed to cause muscle contractions, or at a low frequency but with an intensity that will cause such motor contractions.
Though the idea of passing an electrical current through the skin is enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies, the method is safe and non-invasive and is suitable for the treatment of all kinds of pain, both acute and chronic. Whether or not this method is effective is still up for discussion within the medical community. There are some statistics that suggest that TENS is effective for the chronic musculoskeletal pain and osteoarthritis associated with fibromyalgia as well as for postoperative pain.
The history of the use of electrical stimulation as a therapy for pain control dates back to ancient Greece, to the year 63 A.D. when Scribonius Largus reported that standing on the electric ray, or torpedo fish, reduced the pain of migraines. Different types of electrostatic machines were employed in the treatment of migraines and other pain-producing conditions during the 16th-18th centuries. It is known that Benjamin Franklin gave his endorsement for such pain-reducing treatment. During the 1900s, the electreat was invented. This was a device similar to what is used in administering TENS, however, it was too unwieldy to be practical and it was difficult to control the frequency and intensity of the electrical currents emitted by the electreat.
June 18, 1974 was the day on which TENS received its U.S. patent. The device was a boon to the science of electric stimulation for pain control, since the unit could be worn by the patient. The initial use of TENS was for the determination of how much electrical stimulation could be administered to chronic pain sufferers prior to implanting electrodes in their spinal column. Some of the patients tested with TENS felt so much better that they never came back to the hospital to have the implant!