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Using a TENS machine to treat Bursitis

Bursitis (which is also known as Bursa inflammation) is a common occurrence which affects a lot of people regardless of age. The condition affects over 8 million people in the United States. When a person has bursitis, or inflammation of the bursa, movement or pressure is painful.

There are various treatments for bursitis, but more recently, the use of the TENS machine has become widespread. As expected, questions have risen as well as the awareness for bursitis and the use of TENS machine for its treatment.

Here, we will delve into bursitis, its causes, symptoms, alternative treatments and using TENS machine for the treatment.

This is an absolute mammoth article that covers all aspects of Bursitis. And also treating Bursitis naturally and with a TENS machine. If you are looking for something in particular you can use the table of contents below to skip to it.

So what is Bursitis?

Bursitis happens when your bursae – small fluid-filled sacs near your joints get irritated and swollen.

There are over 150 bursae in the human body. They cushion and lubricate points between the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. Bursae play a key role in helping your joints move smoothly. The bursae are lined with synovial cells.

Synovial cells produce a lubricant that reduces friction between tissues. This cushioning and lubrication allows our joints to move easily. When they’re working right, they cushion your bones, tendons, and ligaments as they move against each other.

What causes Bursitis to flare up?

Bursitis is caused by overuse or excessive pressure on the joint, injury, infection, or an underlying condition, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or goutBursitis occurs more often as we age. As you are probably aware, repetitive motions are the worst things for people who tend to get bursitis.

If you overuse a joint in sports or on the job, put it under pressure for a long time, or get a sudden injury, a nearby bursa can get inflamed. The sac fills with extra fluid, which puts pressure on nearby tissue.

Some common causes of Bursitis.

A photo of a Bursitis sufferer
A common place to suffer Bursitis is on the elbow joint.

Below are some of the common causes of Bursitis and the areas which they effect.

  • Tennis elbow: Bursitis is a common problem among tennis players and golfers. Repetitive bending of the elbow can lead to injury and inflammation.
  • Clergyman’s knee: Repeated kneeling can cause injury and swelling to the bursae in the knee area.
  • Shoulder: Repeated overhead lifting or reaching upwards can cause bursitis in the shoulder.
  • Ankle: Injury to the ankle can result from walking too much and with the wrong shoes. It is common among ice skaters and athletes.
  • Buttocks: The bursae in this area can become inflamed after sitting on a hard surface for a long time, such as on a bicycle.
  • Hips: Some runners and sprinters can develop hip bursitis.
  • Thigh: Bursitis can be caused by stretching.
  • Bursitis can also be caused by a hard blow to an area.
  • Infections that cause bursitis tend to be in the bursae that are nearer the surface of the skin, such as those near the elbow. A cut on the skin is an opportunity for the bacteria to get in. Most healthy people are not affected by bacteria entering through the skin, but people with a weakened immune system are more at risk. Examples are those with diabetes or HIV/AIDS, those who are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer treatment, people taking steroids, and heavy consumers of alcohol.
  • Health conditions: People with certain health conditions are more likely to have crystals form inside the bursa. The crystals irritate the bursa and make it swell. Conditions that may cause this include gout, rheumatoid arthritis, and scleroderma.

People that are more at risk of developing Bursitis.

You’re more likely to get bursitis at an older age. One of the most common places it strikes is the shoulder, which has the greatest range of motion of all the body’s major joints. If you get bursitis there, you’ll likely feel pain along the outside top of your shoulder.

Besides the shoulder, other joints where you can get bursitis are the elbows, hips, and knees. The first sign of trouble is pain, along with swelling and tenderness in the area.

It is important to know that Bursitis is different from tendinitis, which is inflammation or irritation in the cord, or tendon, that attaches your muscle to bone.

Bursitis may show up more often in people who are one of the Below:

  • Manual workers. If you do a lot of heavy lifting or repetitive motion on the job, it can strain your joints and bring on bursitis.
  • Athletes. We’re not only talking about professional players here. Even if you’re just a weekend warrior, you can get bursitis after running, throwing, jumping, or making aggressive arm swings in tennis, baseball, and even bowling. In actual fact bursitis is commonly known as tennis elbow when it effects that area of the body.
  • Couch potatoes. No, you won’t get bursitis from sitting on the sofa watching TV. But if you’re out of shape and push your body too hard during exercise, you can raise your chance of having the condition. Always start a new workout routine gradually.
  • People who spend a lot of time kneeling, such as carpet fitters and gardeners, also have an increased risk of developing bursitis in their knee.

If chronic bursitis is left untreated, it can lead to building-up of calcium deposits in the soft tissues, resulting in permanent loss of movement to the area.

Here are the symptoms of Bursitis.

A person with bursitis can have one or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Pain that increases with movement or pressure
  2. Tenderness, even without movement
  3. Swelling
  4. Loss of movement
  5. If the bursitis is caused by an infection, it is called septic bursitis. A patient with septic bursitis may have the following additional symptoms:
  6. Fever
  7. Redness in the affected area
  8. The affected area feels hot when touched

Severe Bursitis symptoms may include.

  • Joint pain that prevents all movement
  • Pain that lasts longer than 2 weeks
  • Sharp and also shooting pains
  • Excessive swelling, bruising, rash, or redness in the affected region

These may be signs of septic bursitis, a potentially serious and potential life threatening medical illness.

General treatment of Bursitis.

Self treatment-

Most cases of bursitis cases can be treated at home, with the help of a pharmacist and some self-care techniques. An ice pack can help to relieve pain.

Self-care normally involves:

  • Protecting the affected area with some padding can protect the affected bursae from contact.
  • Rest: Not using the joints in the affected area unless necessary. Bursitis responds well to rest.
  • Ice packs: Placing ice packs wrapped in a towel on the affected area can help reduce pain and inflammation. Alternatively, a small pack of frozen vegetables will do. The ice should not be placed directly on the skin. Ice packs for injuries are available for purchase online.
  • Raising the affected area: Less blood will gather if it is elevated, and this may help reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Painkillers: Ibuprofen is effective as a painkiller and to reduce inflammation. Ibuprofen is available to buy over-the-counter or online.

Medical treatment –

Medical treatment may be needed for more severe symptoms.

Steroids- A doctor may inject steroids into the affected area. Steroids block a body chemical called prostaglandin. Prostaglandin causes inflammation. Steroids should be used with care, as they may raise the patient’s blood pressure if used for too long, and increase the risk of getting an infection.

Antibiotics- If a fluid test confirms a bacterial infection, the doctor will probably prescribe antibiotics. These will be administered orally, for example as tablets, or intravenously, in more severe cases.

Very rarely, the bursa may have to be surgically drained.

Treatment will depend on the severity of the symptoms. Treatment typically involves resting the affected joint and protecting it from further trauma. In most cases, bursitis pain goes away within a few weeks with proper treatment, but recurrent flare-ups of bursitis are common.

TENS machine Treatment.

A photo of someone using a tens machine
Using a TENS machine to treat Bursitis can be extremely effective.

This is the treatment that really excites us!

Recently, there has been the use of electro-therapy to treat bursitis. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a key option in the pain management services available in major healthcare centers. This non-pharmacologic, noninvasive treatment modality uses low-voltage electrical current to ease pain and stimulate blood flow in the affected area. TENS is considered to be very effective for managing bursitis pain.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a method of pain relief involving the use of a mild electrical current. A TENS machine is a small, battery-operated device that has leads connected to sticky pads called electrodes.

TENS machines can help treat and manage pain. They may also help treat the following symptoms – period pains, labor pain, post-operative pain, joint pain, neck and back pain. They may also alleviate pain that results from the endometriosis, arthritis, sports injuries, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, painful diabetic neuropathy, spinal cord injury.

A TENS machine has controls that allow you to administer an appropriate level of pain relief. People can achieve this by altering the areas of the electrical current.


How can a TENS machine help to treat Bursitis?

A TENS machine provides pain relief by delivering a low-voltage electrical current to stimulate the nerves in that area by through the skin. It has leads connected to sticky pads which you attach directly to your skin.

For instance, in the case of shoulder bursitis, the TENS machine is applied to the painful area. The TENS machine is switched on and small electrical impulses are delivered to the area, which causes a tingling sensation. The electrical impulses can reduce the pain signals going to the spinal cord and brain, which helps relieve pain and relax muscles. It is also believed that the electrical impulses stimulate the production of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

The TENS machine can be set to different wavelength frequencies, that is, it can be set to deliver an almost steady flow of electrical current or a sudden burst of electrical current. This flexibility allows the treatment to be modified for the patient’s specific pain needs. The optimal placement of the TENS machine depends on the type of injury being treated.

The benefits of using a TENS machine to treat Bursitis.

The TENS machine is designed to ease pain, stimulate your muscles, and improve range of motion.

  • It is effective while providing pain relief from bursa inflammation.
  • The treatment is natural as it stimulates the body to release endorphins for soothing the pain. Meaning that you do not need to rely on nasty medicine with harsh side effects.
  • It has been proven to be a safe method of treatment.
  • TENS are user-friendly and also convenient because they are small, portable, and relatively discrete. People can carry a TENS unit in their pocket or clip it onto a belt to ensure that they have immediate access to pain relief throughout the day.
  • It is non-invasive and non-addictive.
  • The electrical pulses from the TENS machine are too weak to be considered dangerous.

Does a TENS machine actually work when trying to treat Bursitis?

Yes. One study found that TENS treatment provided temporary pain relief for people with bursitis while the machine was in use. While there is a lack of strong clinical evidence for its effectiveness, TENS is a low-risk pain relief option for many people.

Several factors may influence the effectiveness of TENS:


Research shows that people who use the TENS machine on a daily basis at the same frequency and intensity can develop a tolerance to the treatment. A person who develops tolerance will no longer feel the same level of pain relief that they did when they first used the treatment. To prevent this from occurring, people can alternate between Low Frequency and High Frequency TENS within each treatment session.

Alternatively, they can gradually increase the intensity or duration of TENS on a daily basis. A person who repeatedly uses the same TENS frequency would definitely build up a tolerance.

The duration of pain relief after using a TENS machinecan 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.

A 2012 review suggests that the duration of pain relief increases after repeated TENS treatments. However, this repetition can also increase the likelihood of a person building up a tolerance to the treatment.

Stimulation intensity

The range of intensities of the electrical stimulation may account for some of the differences in research findings.

According to a 2014 review, High Frequency TENS treats pain more effectively than Low FrequencyTENS. In fact, many studies have found Low Frequency TENS to be ineffective.

The frequency refers to the number of electrical pulses per second. High-frequency (HF) pulses range from 80 to 120 cycles per second and may help manage acute pain. Low-frequency (LF) pulses range from 1 to 20 cycles per second and are suitable for the general treatment of bursa inflammation at the beginner level.

Given that High Frequency TENS is a more effective pain reliever, experts recommend that people apply the highest-intensity TENS that they can tolerate.

Electrode placement

TENS may be more effective if people place the electrodes on acupuncture points. Acupuncture is a practice that uses needles to stimulate the nerves beneath the skin at specific locations known as acupuncture points. Experts believe that this assists the body in producing endorphins. One review found some evidence that people who receive TENS through acupuncture points may experience a reduction in pain.

Does treating Bursitis with a TENS machine hurt?

No, it does not hurt when using a TENS machine to treat bursitis. It is safe for most people to use without professional assistance, and they will not usually experience any side effects.

However, there are certain possible side effects.

Redness rash on skin: This is most likely from the material from which the pads are made. Some people may be allergic to the adhesive pads. Anyone who experiences skin redness and irritation can switch to using hypoallergenic ones instead.
The electrical impulses that a TENS machineproduces may cause a buzzing, tingling, or prickling sensation, which some people may find uncomfortable.
It is vital never to place the electrodes on either the front of the neck or the eyes. Putting electrodes on the neck can lower blood pressure and cause spasms. On the eyes, the electrodes can increase pressure within the eye and possibly cause an injury.

Who should avoid using a TENS machine to treat Bursitis?

Although it is safe for most people, experts recommend that some groups of people avoid TENS treatment unless a doctor advises its use. This recommendation applies to the following people:

Pregnant women: Pregnant women should avoid using TENS in the abdominal and pelvic regions.
People with epilepsy: Applying electrodes to the head or neck of people with epilepsy may induce seizures.
People with heart problems.
People with a pacemaker or another type of electrical or metal implant.

In conclusion…

TENS machines are a good option for the treatment of Bursitis because they can relieve the pains which is the most common symptom. They are non-addictive with lasting effects. The key factors to consider for effective treatment of bursitis using the TENS machine are:

applying the stimulations to the affected area of the body,
and the treatment intensity.

Knowing how these factors affect TENS can speed the process up.

Most people can use a TENS machine safely, and few will experience side effects. However, it is best to speak to a doctor before trying TENS either as an alternative treatment or in combination with other methods of pain management.

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