Chronic pain? Narcotic addiction is avoidable

Before narcotics, try this device for chronic pain relief. Photo: The TENS unit

WASHINGTON- April 19, 2013- “The wise man seeks not to secure pleasure but to avoid pain.”- Aristotle.

Chronic physical pain can be unrelenting, mind numbing, distracting, fatiguing and at times, overwhelming. A primary care physician (PCP) may be reluctant to provide adequate narcotic relief, instead referring the patient to a pain clinic. A pain clinic provides access to very strong narcotics to alleviate chronic, life disrupting pain. However, patients who follow that regime may succumb to narcotic addiction for life.

An alternative to strong narcotics is a device known as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). This is not a pill or therapy ,but a small portable device that blocks the pain signal to your brain. It uses either two or four stick on electrodes and it is the size of a beeper. It is adjustable and sends a pleasurable electronic buzz to your spinal column blocking the sensation of pain.

Users claim it works fast and when applied before serious pain develops, stops it in its tracks. TENS works on sore, overworked muscles and acute pain as well. For those with life altering chronic pain, TENS can be used alone or adjunctively with less powerful and smaller doses of narcotic or non-narcotic analgesics.  

A TENS device delivers mild electrical impulses through the skin to stimulate the cutaneous (surface) and afferent (deep) nerve cells and has no known side effects.

There are two theories on how the TENS device works. The first is all signals through the spinal column are sent through ‘gates’ that filter which signal or impulses are allowed through to the brain. These gates prevent the brain for getting too much information too quickly. The same nerve cannot carry a pain impulse and a non-pain impulse simultaneously so the stronger non-pain impulse of the TENS overrides the pain impulse.

The second theory is the TENS encourage the brain to produce endorphins, the brains natural pain killer, to overcome pain. Some think both theories are simultaneously applicable.

The advantage of a TENS unit is it fits in a pocket or purse, its non-addictive, the initial purchase price, if not covered by insurance, ranges from about $50.00 to $130.00 and the maintenance costs are the replacement of batteries and the electrodes which are very inexpensive.

The question arises of why more people are not offered a TENS device as a first line of defense against pain? Many supporters of the TENS device feel the big pharms and the pain industry requires repeat visits to a clinic and refills to fuel the pain relief industrial economy.

Before traveling down the slippery slope of narcotic addiction, ask your doctor about a TENS device.


Paul Mountjoy is a member of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science.


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