A Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit is a small, portable device used for pain relief. The patient attaches two electrodes (sticky pads) to the area he/she wishes to treat. Then a small cable is fastened to each pad, which then connects to a small device that sends a safe, mild electrical current to the affected area. This mild electrical current reaches the nerves underneath the skin, thereby blocking the signals the nerves send to the brain that cause the feeling of pain.
Understandably, many people are nervous about the idea of deliberately applying electrical current to their body. Much study has been done regarding TENS units, and this therapy is proven to be safe for most patients. A doctor or physical therapist will instruct the patient on the use of a TENS unit, including helping him/her determine the best placement of the electrodes and determining the strength of the current. Many patients use TENS only during physical therapy sessions, under close supervision. Determining the correct strength of current may be tricky. If the patient feels nothing at all, the current may not be strong enough. Conversely, if the patient feels as though the muscles are twitching, the current may be too strong. The patient should only feel a slight tingling sensation where the electrodes are located.
TENS units may be used for chronic pain in many locations of the body. The ankle is one such location. Unfortunately, there is no simple, absolute answer as to whether or not TENS therapy will help relieve ankle pain. Every patient’s body reacts to treatments and stimuli differently, and a treatment that works wonders for your best friend may be completely ineffective for you, and vice versa. However, for most people, TENS is effective and carries low risk of side effects, so it may worthwhile to discuss TENS therapy with your doctor and/or physical therapist if you are experiencing chronic pain in an ankle or any other part of your body. If your medical team does think TENS is a good idea for you to practice at home, several varieties of TENS units can be found at your local drugstore.