TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, is usually used to relieve symptoms of pain. It is applied using small electrodes which are placed over the skin to deliver harmless electrical impulses. As the impulses are delivered pain signals to the brain are blocked, and natural chemicals in the body are produced to ease pain without the need for medications.
A new study performed by V. Reggie Edgerton, PhD, from the University of California, Los Angeles, has seen a similar treatment help five men move again after being paralyzed. The TENS system was used to deliver electro-stimulation to the patients, while also following a rigorous therapy plan. Medscape reports: “On the heels of that success, Dr Edgerton and colleagues began work on transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation. In a report published online in the Journal of Neurotrauma, they report on five men paralyzed for more than 2 years who underwent a series of 45-minute sessions of transcutaneous electrical stimulation once a week for about 18 weeks.”
This is huge news within the medical community, as the battle against paralysis has been a long one. Due to the fact that paralysis can be caused by several factors, it is often impossible to reverse, especially if damage is evident in the brain or spinal cord. This new treatment using TENS is not going to work for every case, but it certainly offers hope to many who have been confined to beds or wheelchairs.
Researchers who were part of the team, and outside influences in the scientific community have all expressed their surprise and delight at the treatment’s effectiveness. In the past, paralysis of the limbs and body was viewed as a permanent condition, which would likely last the span of the patient’s life. This new data confirms that there are ways to reverse the paralysis, or at least stimulate regions of the body which were thought to be unreachable through other methods of treatment.
TENS For Pain
Chronic pain, as mentioned above, is a much more common use for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. When it can’t be managed through medication alone, or doctor’s feel it would be best to use alternative forms of treatment, TENS may be implemented. One type of pain, known as neuropathic pain, is something that paralyzed men and women are prone to. They may not feel it physically, but chemicals in the brain still use nerve impulses to alert the brain to the possibility of pain. This type of pain can also use TENS treatments, but in a way that is different from other pain management practices. ChristopherReeve.org explains: “Transcranial electrical stimulation (TCES): treatment applies electrodes to an individual’s scalp, allowing electrical current to be applied and presumably stimulate the underlying cerebrum. Studies indicate this newer treatment may be useful in reducing SCI-related chronic pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): is used for pain and has been shown to help with chronic musculoskeletal pain. In general, TENS has not been as effective for pain below injury level.”
The pain felt by paralyzed patients can cause feelings of depression, and bring on other physical symptoms like fatigue and drowsiness. It has been difficult to treat the pain in the past as it is not something that a general pain killing medication can prevent. New medications and therapies, however, are being recognized and utilized regularly to help individuals suffering from this pain to find relief.
The New TENS Therapy
Past research into the use of TENS for treating paralysis used implanted devices to send the signals over the spinal cord, but more recent studies have been able to achieve success without the need for any surgical implantation. Giz Mag writes: “The new treatment uses a technique called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, which involves strategically placing electrodes on the skin of the lower back. While receiving stimulation, the men’s legs were supported by braces that hung from the ceiling. At first their legs only moved involuntarily, if at all. But they soon found they could voluntarily extend the distance their legs moved during stimulation.”
This range of voluntary motion, not only became possible, but it doubled after using the machine only four times. This is a major breakthrough in the field of paralysis science. Before this treatment, the men who participated in the study had not moved their legs in more than two years.
While the results are positive, the medical community realizes that there is much more work to be done if there will ever be a true cure to paralysis. TENS units are still being researched and modified to find a way that can continue this achievement of motion long term. The patients who received the treatments were happy with the results, and everybody involved has voiced a longing to continue toward an even larger achievement of possibly creating more than just movement in the legs.