Using a TENS machine for gout pain relief is somewhat controversial, but when in agony, most gout sufferers are willing to try anything.
Can a Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation machine help your gout pain?
The jury is still out when it comes to a clear declaration of effectiveness. Some experts remain unconvinced about how frequency and intensity determine effectiveness, and there are concerns that, even where a degree of pain relief is certain, those effects diminish with prolonged use. Other experts see TENS units as a viable alternative, especially when patients are against taking pain medication on a daily basis.
So, really, the choice is yours. If they work for you, then TENS machines are a good option for gout pain relief. They can now be hired from several sources, so it’s a good idea to test their effectiveness for you before buying your own machine.
There is a comprehensive review of TENS machines for treating pain  by DeSantana and colleagues, who conclude:
Basic scientific evidence suggests that there are peripheral and central nervous system mechanisms underlying the analgesic action of TENS. Studies also show that tolerance to repeated application of TENS can be prevented by multiple strategies, both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic. Experimental pain studies and clinical trials are beginning to refine parameters of stimulation to obtain the best pain relief. It seems that stimulation intensity is a critical factor for the effectiveness of TENS. One meta-analysis was able to show the positive treatment effects of electrical stimulation for relief of chronic musculoskeletal pain, and randomized controlled trials consistently demonstrate the effectiveness of TENS for acute, emergent, and postoperative pain conditions. However, the effectiveness of TENS on individual pain conditions, such as low back pain, is still controversial, likely because of poor study designs and small sample size. Thus, continued research of TENS mechanisms and stimulation parameters in adequately characterized patient populations is critical.
TENS Machine Side Effects
Though TENS units do not have any of the side effects associated with pharmaceutical gout relief, there are a couple of warnings.
Firstly, TENS machines are not suitable for anyone fitted with a pacemaker.
More importantly, for gout sufferers, beware of breaking the golden rule of gout pain relief. That is, pain relief should only be short term. You should only treat gout pain until you can get uric acid low enough to control gout properly. Get uric acid to a maximum 5mg/dL (0.30mmol/L). You must make uric acid safe, in order to prevent permanent damage to joints and organs. It can take several months to get uric acid down to this safe level. During that time, if TENS machines help relieve pain, then use them if you wish. However, you must use them to help you control pain until you can control uric acid – never instead of controlling uric acid.
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Alternatively, browse the complete range of Gout Treatment options and how to manage them.
TENS Machine References
- Title: Effectiveness of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation for treatment of hyperalgesia and pain. Authors: DeSantana JM, Walsh DM, Vance C, Rakel BA, Sluka KA. Published: Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2008 Dec;10(6):492-9. Review. TENS Machine Effectiveness
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