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  1. Teri
    Teri July 11, 2009 at 2:53 pm |

    I know how much relief a TENS unit can give. My Dad had a spine injury back in the 70’s and he got an one back then to help with the pain. His narcotics had given him kidney and liver issues so the TENS was a lifesaver. Literally. When my little brother was recently in a car accident that resulted in him having some spinal issues, resulting in him not being able to work as a chef because of the standing etc. He remember my Dad’s TENS unit and talked to his doctors about it and they finally said okay. It has made a huge difference in his life. He is able to finally travel in a car again for longer that 40 minutes. A big deal when family was 4 to 5 hours away. He was able to come to visit and celebrate my Dad’s 76th birthday where they compared their TENS units… very cool. My Dad uses a leather carpenter pouch to carry his around along with his cell phone, wallet and hearing aid. My brother uses a modified fanny pack that his girlfriend made him. She made the closure out of plastic so that when he goes through the medical detector at the courthouse where he works it doesn’t go off. The wires etc apparently aren’t large enough to register. Hope everything stays stable for you! Don’t you just hate when you get a regimine that works and gets you to be able to live your life and then something changes and you have to start over again? Blessing to you. Teri

  2. Pega
    Pega July 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm |

    My father suffered from multiple disabilities, visible and non. One of them was chronic pain in his back and shoulders as a result of severe arthritis. He was also a double amputee (one leg above the knee, one leg below the knee). The chronic pain, coupled with the loss of his legs, made him a bed-ridden invalid for the last 3 years of his life. During those three years his doctors treated his chronic pain almost exclusively with narcotics. Because he was also considered a terminal patient, they seemed to have no qualms with addiction, though they did change the narcotics when dependency would require him to use larger and larger doses to achieve less and less pain relief. When he finally passed through a morphine dependency, which was countered with a new scrip for methodone as replacement, he said he’d had enough with the drugs. Now he wasn’t just bed-ridden, but practically vegetative because he couldn’t think around the narcs anymore, and often chose to forgo the meds in favor of just living with the pain.

    A little less than a year before he died a new, young and progressive MD took a look at Daddy’s med list and went nuts. He cut the scrips down to less than two dozen, eliminating almost two-thirds of the meds the old man was on and got him a TENS. (As an aside, my father was a vet and all his medical needs were provided by the VA. Getting approval for the TENS was not an easy road by any means.) His was a desktop unit, not portable unless he was in an electric wheelchair. The weight added to the manual chair made it so I couldn’t push him if the TENS was also on board. But I swear that machine was magic. For the first time in years the old man was able to leave his bed for a few hours at a time and visit with the rest of the family, or sit in the yard for a barbeque, or take a drive to the beach or go shopping. He was still on pain meds, mostly narcotic, but not nearly as many, and he was able to hold a coherent conversation again without nodding off mid-sentence.

    He didn’t live much longer, the man had more medical problems than you could shake a stick at, but that TENS machine made it possible to bring a little bit of joy and LIFE back into his life. He spent his last few months feeling like a person instead of something shoved in a corner to be forgotten about. I wish more people had access to them, and that more doctors were willing to fight for their patients and get the machines for them when they’re warrented.

  3. Hershele Ostropoler
    Hershele Ostropoler July 11, 2009 at 3:19 pm |

    What might sand do? I’ve gotten a cell phone half buried with no ill effects, though the TENS device may be more delicate and is certainly more vital.

  4. Renee
    Renee July 11, 2009 at 3:43 pm |

    Hearing your story gave me hope that someday I too will find a solution to the pain I live with that does not involve pain medication. The idea of being to work a conventional job again sounds like heaven. It is difficult when you have an invisible disability for people to realize how damaging this can really be on your life. When I am without my cane or my scooter it would appear as though everything with me is fine and nothing could be further from the truth. I feel that more discussion needs to happen around invisible disabilities to raise awareness perhaps then we would not be subject to so many questions or the constant pressure to justify why we need an accommodation.

  5. victoria
    victoria July 11, 2009 at 4:37 pm |

    “Identity is a complex thing for a person with an invisible disability. There is always that voice in the back of your head, reminding you that most of the world still thinks you are not sick — you are normal — nothing’s wrong with you — you’re making it up, imagining or exaggerating things, or looking for things to complain about.”

    Thank you so much for writing this post, but this quote especially touched me. My own version of that voice can be deafening at times.

  6. watsana
    watsana July 11, 2009 at 8:00 pm |

    Fifteen years ago (when I a pre-teen), I fractured my spine. The fracture itself wasn’t actually the biggest problem, it was a cycle of muscle spasms pinching nerves and pinched nerves causing spasms… It was some serious back pain, that left me bed ridden for about a year.

    Long story short, acupuncture was the answer for me, but my acupuncturist used electrodes attached to some of the needles during my sessions, and so I completely understand the relief it contributes to (six months of three hours a week of treatment fixed my problem. I actually don’t know if the spinal fracture ever properly healed, but hey, my back hasn’t hurt in fifteen years!)

    I just wish that more doctors would push for things like the TENS (which I had never heard of by the way). You’d think more of them would jump at treatments that can lower their patients’ dependence on narcotics (I don’t actually think I’ll ever forgive the doctor who put me on large vicodine doses when I was still a child without exploring other options *first.* At one point I decided my life sucked so much with the pills and the pain that the pills didn’t even fix that I tried swallowing all that vicodine at once.. fortunately I was one of those people who puke vicodine on an empty stomach. I wish I hadn’t gone through all of that before finding a treatment that actually worked for me).

    I also think that it’s great that you’re writing about this and emphasizing that it’s a useful too, because these things seem to spread by word of mouth with patients asking for the treatment…

  7. lilacsigil
    lilacsigil July 11, 2009 at 8:16 pm |

    Witch hazel! Brilliant! I have a few customers who have problems getting the TENS patch residue off their skin and find the removal goo to be irritating. We’ve been hesitantly recommending eucalyptus oil, but witch hazel could be much less irritating. Thank you!

  8. leslie
    leslie July 11, 2009 at 8:18 pm |

    Oh, the TENS!! After a car wreck which badly messed up my C5 I did physical therapy with it. A few years later I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia and got (unfortunately short term) more physical therapy which included its use. Since then I’ve ben reuced to cadging off of friends when they got lucky enough to get one for short term use. Sadly few and far between but since my fibro doesn’t manifest severely I don’t qualify for one of my own.

    Anyone who has any soft tissue damage, muscle damage, or skeletal damage (so, almost everyone) should check this out. It may not work miracles, but when you live in pain what it does can feel quite miraculous. I find most physical therapists are open to its use at least during visits. Even that can make so much of a difference. When you know there will be a cessation of pain (no matter how temporary) it really helps with the whole mindset thing. I know when I was doing therapy it was a bright spot in my day even though I hated most of the rest of therapy.

    Sadly, unemployed now and can barely afford to keep my old insurance (I’d be uninsurable if I dropped it) so no TENS in my near future. Still, knowing someday I might be able to get one helps. Just knowing there is a non-narcotic aid is immensely reasurring.

  9. Lauren
    Lauren July 11, 2009 at 8:51 pm |

    Thanks for writing this. I’m also appalled at the rate that doctors subscribe narcotics before exploring other options, and hearing about alternative forms of pain management is awesome.

  10. Ruchama
    Ruchama July 11, 2009 at 8:57 pm |

    I love my TENS unit. The home one doesn’t work quite as well as the big one at PT, partly because the signal cycling is a little different and not as good, but mostly because the places where the electrodes are supposed to go are places that, even with my hypermobile shoulders, I can’t quite reach, so they end up somewhere in the general area of where they should be, unless someone else is around and can help me. I haven’t had any skin problems other than slight redness and itchiness, but I usually don’t wear it all day, so that’s probably why.

  11. ahimsa
    ahimsa July 11, 2009 at 9:01 pm |

    I also have endometriosis and realize how painful it can be. I remember that it took a few visits with my doctor before my level of pain registered with her. I thought that saying “It’s really, really bad pain” was enough. But that didn’t work. I finally had to say, “You know, I end up on the bathroom floor sobbing and screaming with pain” before it made an impression on her. My stomach lining will never be the same after all the Toradol (ketorolac) that I took but that is the drug that helped me more than Vicodin (something about blocking the prostaglandins). My endo pain is under control now (surgery is what worked for me) or I’d be looking for other options.

    A bit of a digression (and I’m sure you already know this) but it’s not surprising to have endometriosis along with some other illness. An NIH study found that women with endometriosis are at greater risk for several other diseases (see ).

    Anyway, I’m so glad you found something that helps with your pain! Thanks for sharing all the information about the TENS unit. It’s great to have it online for others who might need it (I’m bookmarking this page). You are so generous to share your experience in this way. That’s the main reason I wanted to post a comment.

  12. jaquita harris
    jaquita harris July 11, 2009 at 10:37 pm |

    I hate it when people speak out against any medication use in children ever (or against medication in general; I like what my drugs do for me thankyouverymuch) — but certainly doctors need to be a bit more discretionary in some cases, and in general need to better learn how to LISTEN to their patients.

    Doctors get burned by just taking patients word for it though…. the DEA comes after them in full force. Pain management in this country would get a lot better if you gave doctors some protections from the ridiculous overaggressive fascist scumbag DEA agents.

  13. roses
    roses July 11, 2009 at 11:22 pm |

    They used that on me when I was in physiotherapy for back/neck/shoulder pain. I completely agree about how indescribably wonderful it feels when placed on a very painful tender spot. I had no idea it was possible to get them for personal medical use, thank you so much for sharing that.

  14. ahimsa
    ahimsa July 11, 2009 at 11:38 pm |

    It’s so true, amandaw, that surgery will not work for everyone with endometriosis. I’m glad you mentioned that in case my comment was not clear. Plus, in addition to the normal risks associated with any surgery, surgery to remove endometriosis lesions has the risk of internal scarring, adhesions, etc. which can cause additional (different?) pain. There are no easy answers for this darn illness. Even menopause does not eliminate symptoms for all women with endometriosis. People on the outside looking on may want simple solutions (especially family members who love us and want us to get well) but the truth is that most chronic, disabling medical conditions are more complex than people realize.

    I was very lucky that surgery worked for me (my endo pain is now at a background level, not that bad at all) but I completely understand that all potential treatments for endometriosis (and pretty much every other medical condition!) have their own list of pros and cons. Deciding on a treatment must be handled on a case by case situation.

    Sending some {{{cyber hugs}}} your way! (if that’s not too corny)

  15. 22state
    22state July 12, 2009 at 6:11 am |

    As a side benefit, it seems like your TENS allows a virtuous circle. You have less pain, so can do the physical therapy and stretching, so then you have fewer flare-up and less pain.

    Your story also provides a great example of the savings to be found for a public option. A relatively low cost self-help treatment allows you to work (and pay taxes) instead of being a public charge. But, since the insurance company doesn’t have to bear the exterior costs of you not working (no taxes to the Treasury) + being on Medicare or Medicaid, it has every incentive to increase its profits by denying you the treatment. Obviously, you are a happier, healthier person. But the public also benefits in a quantifiable $$ way from this medical treatment.

  16. Elaine Vigneault
    Elaine Vigneault July 12, 2009 at 2:59 pm |

    I’ve used TENS before, but only at the chiropractor’s office. I liked it.

    Now I want one of those utility belts! So convenient :)

  17. Interesting posts, weekend of 7/12 « Feminists with Female Sexual Dysfunction

    […] Things that make my life easier: TENS edition – I have a type of TENS therapy only twice and … yeah it helped me. I can never say if it will help anybody else. If you’ve never heard of it, or are interested in more, this post may help. […]

  18. T @ Fibromyalgia Research Blog
    T @ Fibromyalgia Research Blog July 13, 2009 at 8:41 am |

    I find TENS units (no matter how large or small) to be pretty useless for overall control of my chronic pain but decent to distract me from my pain when it’s really bad and I’m trying to avoid taking another pain pill. However, you can get them for very cheap for those who don’t know that – I bought mine for $60 on Amazon. So no need to wait for insurance to cover it, for those who can find a way to swing $60 or $80 for a unit. There is also a wonderful butterfly-shaped electrode available for lower back pain (so you don’t have to attach 4 different electrodes to yourself, just one big one that spreads across the lower back). I highly recommend that one.

  19. T @ Fibromyalgia Research Blog
    T @ Fibromyalgia Research Blog July 13, 2009 at 8:44 am |

    PS Can you explain to me why you use a prep lotion? I have never done so. I have had no problems getting the electrodes to adhere or removing them, but I do notice that my electrodes are now starting to be less sticky after a lot of use (some hair has gotten stuck to them, etc) And where do you get the sensitive skin electrodes?

  20. T @ Fibromyalgia Research Blog
    T @ Fibromyalgia Research Blog July 13, 2009 at 8:45 am |

    Sorry for the repeat comments – Just wanted to clarify, I remember now that I didn’t end up buying my TENS unit on Amazon – I got it from another online vendor though that had them cheap. All I needed was to fax the prescription I got from my doc.

  21. JH
    JH July 13, 2009 at 5:01 pm |

    Somewhat OT, but since it was briefly mentioned in the post – I used a TENS for pain relief during labor and found it helpful. I wish more people were aware of that use for the TENS – I had to ask my midwives’ group about it after hearing a doula mention it. I had never even heard of a TENS, and I don’t think the midwives had either, but they were very helpful when I brought it up.

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