Benefits of TENS Therapy for Stroke Rehab

Benefits of TENS Therapy for Stroke Rehab

The benefits of TENS therapy for stroke rehab go a little farther than you’d think. In this article, you’ll learn what TENS therapy is, how it works, and what the benefits of TENS therapy are. Let’s get started.

What Is TENS Therapy?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation therapy is electrical stimulation that’s applied to your skin to provide extra stimulation to your nerves and muscles. If we take it apart, “transcutaneous” means “applied to the skin,” so it’s pretty straight forward now that you know your word parts.

What is TENS Therapy Used For?

TENS therapy is commonly used to relieve pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, tendinitis, injuries, and general bodily pain. While TENS therapy is commonly used for pain, it can also be used as an effective addition to your stroke rehabilitation efforts.

Is TENS Therapy Effective?

To delve into the effectiveness of TENS therapy, we’ll look into one study where participants were divided into 4 groups who received either:

  • Nerve stimulation by itself
  • Nerve stimulation combined with task-related training (combination therapy)
  • Only task-related training and no nerve stimulation
  • Nothing at all (the control)

The results: After 20 one-hour sessions, the combination therapy group showed statistically significant improvement over the control group. Most importantly, those gains still existed at a follow-up one month later.

How TENS Therapy Works

For a little background, let’s first discuss what a stroke is. This will help provide insight into the benefits of TENS therapy for stroke.

A stroke occurs when an artery in the brain either bursts or becomes blocked. Side effects from a stroke vary case by case, sometimes resulting in impaired movement on one side of the body. As a result, the unaffected side of the body works harder to compensate for the weakened side. That’s when TENS therapy comes into play.

During TENS therapy, the electrical stimulation makes you more aware of the subtle muscle contractions in your affected limb(s), allowing your affected muscles to relearn movement and regain strength.

Benefits of TENS Therapy

The most important benefit of TENS therapy is the ability to regain muscle movement after stroke. For stroke survivors who are left with hemiparesis or other versions of paralysis, TENS therapy can help your muscles regain movement through nerve and muscle stimulation.

For best results, TENS therapy should be used in combination with your rehab exercises, according to occupational therapist Katie Smith. The combination of muscle stimulation while using those muscles to perform tasks will allow you to retain the muscle movement much better. However, if you’re unable to move your muscles at all, you can still benefit from TENS therapy by itself without any accompanying exercises – your gains will just be smaller.

If you are a stroke survivor interested in gaining more movement in your affected limb(s), talk with your therapist to see if TENS therapy is right for you.

Did this spark any questions? Leave us a comment below and we’ll be sure to get back to you!

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  • John Twomey

    my names john and I had a stroke 6 months ago ischemic I’m still trying to work although I get so fatigued on exertion and can only put out 30% of what I used to a few yrs ago, ihad major back surgery 27 months ago 7 screws and 2 rods and 4 metal cages where my discs once were.needless to say my legs were very weak for the past 5-7 yrs but this stroke has made them much worse I have to grab something to get up after kneeling which is what I do all day while I work as I am a plumber, yes I’m looking to make a carreer change.Any how my ? is does anyone know any specific ways to deal with spacisity, I’m painfully tight on my whole right side and it physically wears me wee as mentally & emotionally, any feedback would be greatly appreciated ! I just go a tens device and am gonna try it tomorrow. THANKS AGAIN EVERYONE

  • Mary949

    My husband has been using an over the counter ‘sTimulator’ on his hammertoe. It’s been steadily releasing, kind of like a TENS. He didn’t have a stroke, but I’m so interested in the TENS and how this works too.

  • Jay Katz

    I had a stroke eleven years ago and I still am unable to walk. My right side is Ataxic, but not spastic. There is a a lot of spasticity in my neck however. After my stroke and before I had Botox injections in my neck, my chin (and my head) was always in my chest due to the spasticity of the muscles in my neck. It hurt to lift my head due to the spasticity in my neck. After nine months I got Botox injections in my neck. They definitely helped me. I could lift my head for the first time since my stroke. I have gotten Botox injections every 3 months since (the Botox is only effective for three months). Last year however, I went a span of five months before I got Botox injections in my neck (due to a change in doctors). Ever since then, I still get Botox injections in my neck but they don’t seem to be as effective. My head is starting to slide back in my chin, due to the spasticity in my neck. I do neck stretching exercises every day in between Botox injections. My doctor has increased the dosage of Botox when he injects my neck, but nothing seems to work. My head is starting to slide back into my chest. Either I went too long between Botox injections or my body has built up a tolerance to the Botox, or both. Has anybody under gone a treatment that is effective against spasticity other than Botox injections? Will TENS therapy work on the spasticity in my neck?

    • Flint

      Hi Jay! While I can’t offer advice about TENS therapy for your neck, I can recommend a great article about botox:

      In the article, you’ll learn why you need to keep going back to get more treatments (a temporary fix each time) and how to use rehab exercises – in conjunction with Botox – to get your spasticity to go away permanently.

      I don’t have any resources on neck exercises particularly, but perhaps your physical therapist can recommend some. I really hope you get a chance to read the article because it will explain everything.

      • Jay Katz

        Thanks for your reply to my post. I have received Botox injections for more then 10 years, but I have only done neck stretching exercises that I made up myself after the last Botox injections I received.No one has told me to do them after the Botox injections. I’m doing them myself out of desperation. I have been getting physical therapy for the past 10 weeks but that has ended (my insurance has run out for them), and I can’t afford to pay for them myself. I haven’t worked since the stroke 11 years ago. The 11 year anniversary of my stroke was yesterday.

        I’m getting some Botox injections in 2 weeks. I have read the article you recommended and it was very good. But I was unable to find in this blog any stroke rehab exercises for the neck. I will try to ask my physical therapist if he knows of any he could recommend. Do you really think by doing stroke rehab exercises after the Botox injections in my neck will reverse the spasticity in my neck?

        • Flint

          Hi Jay, absolutely. It won’t happen quickly, but doing repetitious, therapeutic neck exercises will absolutely help with your spasticity. Here are some that you might want to try, or ask your therapist if they’re OK:

          Be extra careful with neck exercises. Never do anything painful, be gentle, and always listen to your body.

          I am glad that you found the spasticity article helpful and I’m anxious to know if this helps or not. Can you please check back in after you’ve been doing the exercises for a few weeks after your Botox? 🙂

          • Jay Katz

            Thanks for the neck exercises. I will start them tomorrow. I also bought a microwavable heating pad designed for the neck. I am using it right now as I right this.I get Botox injections next week. I’ll check back in a few weeks after my Botox injections. Thanks again.

          • Flint

            Adding heat therapy is actually a really smart idea! That should help a lot too 🙂 and not a problem Jay. Looking forward to hearing your results!

  • Tami

    I had a massive stroke 4.5 years ago that took my whole left side. After lots of hard work I’m recovering nicely. Although the spasticity and related pain in my entire left side is becoming unbearable. Tired of norco and Percocet and muscle relaxers. I have gone back to physical therapy again and again. I’m looking at the tens unit thinking maybe I ought to try it. But what part of the body do I put it on since the whole side is effected ? Thank you for any info you can give me. I’m in northern lower Michigan. So not too far from flint. Do you treat this kind of pain there ? Thanks again. Tami