Affecting up to 10 million people in the U.S. every year, tennis elbow isn’t limited to tennis players. It really should be called “exercise elbow,” “gamers’ elbow,” “DIY elbow” and more, as it afflicts people who perform repetitive movements with their arms, such as golfers, musicians, crafters, plumbers, painters, cooks and more. Even those who work on computer keyboards all day are at risk.
Repetitive motion leads to microtrauma in the forearm tendons, which presents as inflammation and pain when you’re using your arm to grip or carry items, open jars, shake hands, turn a doorknob or even just brush your teeth. Without treatment, this debilitating condition can become chronic, lasting several months to years, and recurrences are common.
One traditional treatment for tennis elbow is transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), which is typically administered by a physical therapist, chiropractor or acupuncturist, although units are also available for people by prescription or over the counter to use at home.
A new, at-home treatment is the E5 Fiix Elbow wearable device from Stā Active. Both TENS and the Fiix Elbow encompass non-invasive, non-drug and less expensive interventions than many other therapeutic protocols for tennis elbow. Here we examine the difference between the Fiix Elbow and TENS.
TENS OverviewTENS units are compact, battery-powered devices that are used to treat pain in a variety of conditions. The devices deliver a low voltage electrical current through electrodes that are applied to the skin at or near nerves where the pain is located, or at trigger points.
The electric current stimulates nerve cells that block the transmission of pain, thereby reducing their ability to transmit pain signals to the spinal cord and brain. TENS also is said to modify one’s perception of pain by stimulating the nerves to increase the release of endorphins, which are natural pain relievers.
Users can control several aspects of the electrical impulses according to preference:
- Intensity – This is measured in milliamps or volts.
- Frequency – The number of electrical pulses per second. High-frequency (80-120 Hz, or cycles per second) is recommended for acute pain; low-frequency (1-20 Hz/cycles per second) is for chronic pain.
- Duration – The numbers of microseconds that the current enters the skin for during each pulse.
- Type – Burst or continuous pulses.
Treatment duration can range from 15 minutes to one hour, and TENS can be used daily.
Uses and Effectiveness of TENS
TENS is used for various conditions, such as tennis elbow or tendonitis, low back pain, bursitis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, diabetic neuropathy or multiple sclerosis. It is not recommended for people who are pregnant or who have an implantable device, cancer, epilepsy, heart disease, deep vein thrombosis or a bleeding disorder.
While typically very minimal, side effects can include skin redness or irritation at the electrode site; and a buzzling or prickling sensation that may be uncomfortable.
Anecdotal evidence supports the use of TENS in effectively providing an analgesic effect. But due to a lack of high-quality research and clinical trials, it’s difficult to definitively evaluate the efficacy of TENS for pain relief. Some individuals indicate that the pain relief stops as soon as the TENS device is turned off, while others say it lasts for as much as 24 hours post-session.
The benefits of TENS are that it is safe, easily accessible, can be used in conjunction with other treatments and may help decrease use of pain-relieving medications. Before using TENS, individuals should consult with their doctor or allied healthcare professional.
Fiix Elbow Wearable DeviceBoth TENS and the new E5 Fiix Elbow device are compact units used for self-care to alleviate pain. But the similarities end there. Here’s what it can’t do.
While TENS can be administered for a wide variety of conditions, the FIIx Elbow was designed exclusively to treat tennis elbow. This unique wearable unit automates a clinical, proven therapy known as instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM). Typically performed by a physical therapist, chiropractor or massage therapist, IASTM involves using a specially designed manual tools to deliver deep, linear strokes to muscles and tendons.
This deep tissue pressure induces controlled microtrauma to the area, which breaks up scar tissue and adhesions, boosts circulation and stimulates collagen synthesis. The Fiix Elbow automatically delivers this same treatment, with customizable pressure and therapy session duration, to help repair the injured forearm tendon in tennis elbow.
Even better, the Fiix Elbow comes with a simple physical therapist-prescribed protocol of 10 minutes per day, three times per week for eight weeks, along with specific stretching and strengthening exercises. Treatment is performed conveniently at home, and users don’t have to deal with health insurance deductibles or co-pays, time-consuming appointments or costly therapies or medications.
Ultimately, then, while TENS offers temporary pain relief, the Fiix Elbow goes beyond this surface, feel-better temporary solution. The Fiix Elbow targets the root of the pain, and rather than simply mask it, it directly addresses the pain source not only to provide relief, but also to promote healing and restore function.