Pain Management Without Pills


Pain is our body’s alert or warning system. Much like the warning lights on your car dashboard, pain is your body’s way of letting you know that something is wrong and may need your attention. Sometimes we can tolerate the pain with little impact on our daily lives. At other times, pain can be unrelenting. Left untreated, pain will negatively affect sleep, mood, appetite, and overall happiness.  

Traditional Pain Relief Options Carry Risk    

The most common form of pain relief is found in pills. Whether prescribed or over the counter (OTC), pain medications utilize various chemical compounds to inhibit, mask, or diminish pain. Any pain medication must be taken exactly as prescribed to avoid harmful side effects. Taken as directed most medicines are safe. However, pain medications often come with increased risk of abuse and misuse. Opioid and narcotic pain medications have well documented side effects. Narcotic medications are associated with high levels of addiction and abuse, often with tragic results. OTC medications are also heavily misused. Medications like Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) which we normally consider safe, can have dangerous consequences with prolonged use and at higher dosages. 



Fewer Pills! 

Providers will often outline several pain-relieving strategies that we can combine to maximize relief without pills. For example, many find meditation and breathing exercises help significantly. Acupuncturebiofeedback, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENs) are also proven as highly successful alternatives to pain management.  

TENs is a particularly effective, and safe DIY pain management strategy. It is very affordable with  few limitations for when and where it can be used but most importantly, TENs is non-addictive with almost no negative side effects.  

Benefits of TENs 

TENs is noninvasive and frequently, people can reduce their intake of pain medications while getting relief from their TENs unit. They are convenient, can be used at home or on the go, and offer relief for nearly every body part. Since TENs units are portable and discrete, they can be carried in a pocket or clipped onto a belt to be worn whenever and wherever you want immediate access to pain relief throughout your day.  

How it works 

The device is powered by a small battery. It is connected by electrodes that adhere to the skin around the painful body part. Small electrical pulses that many describe as a pleasant vibration, or buzzing sensation are sent through the skin. The impulses are picked up by our nerves which can block or diminish pain signals before they get to the brain. TENs can also stimulate the production of our bodies own internal pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins. For best relief, work with a qualified healthcare provider to guide you to proper electrode placement and optimum device settings.  

How long does pain relief last? 

The duration of pain relief after using a TENS unit can vary. Some people report that their pain returns as soon as they switch off the device. Others continue to experience an adequate level of pain relief for up to 24 hours. Most people claim they get nearly immediate relief, and they often report 2-3hrs of carry over pain relief even after removing the device.  

Are all TENs devices the same? 

No! You can find many cheap TENs unit options online. Be sure to look for a quality unit built by a reputable manufacturer of medical devices. One of the best options on the market is the Primera made by Chattanooga. It is easy to use, very effective and affordable.  

Is TENs right for me? 

Most people can use a TENS unit safely, however, it is best to speak to your healthcare provider before trying TENS as an alternative treatment or in combination with other methods of pain management. When using your TENs unit, consider a few important tips. 

  • Take careful note of your pain location(s). Skin should be clean and dry.  
  • Place electrode pads (2 or 4 can be used) in the area surrounding your pain site. 
  • Pads should not touch each other and in general, should be placed at least 1 inch apart. 
  • Do not place electrodes over cuts or scrapes, it could make the sensation uncomfortable. 
  • If you find a particular pad placement or device setting that gives you relief, make note of that setting and/or take a few pics so you can duplicate the treatment. 
  • If you are no longer getting relief, try altering the settings and/or pad placement. 
  • Combine TENs with other alternative pain management approaches as mentioned above.  
  • Do not place pads over the front neck area known as the carotid sinus, on or around your eyes, temples, or across the front and back of the chest and heart area. 
  • If you are pregnant, may be pregnant, have cancer, a pacemaker, or a new injury, consult with your healthcare provider before using TENs.  
  • Consult with our team here at MedCOR Professionals, or your provider for best practices and lasting results.  

Putting it all together 

The risk from pain medication abuse and misuse is very real and it is not just opioids or narcotics that cause health problems. OTC pain medications carry significant health risks if misused. There are numerous alternative options for pain relief. TENs is one of the safest, most effective, and affordable  options. Be sure to seek support from a qualified healthcare professional to make sure TENs is a safe option for your condition. Don’t wait, pill-free pain relief is readily available, and we are here to help as we keep you moving forward. 


Contributed by:
Chris Krause, OT/L
Dir. of Operations and Business Development – MedCOR Professionals, Scarborough, Maine