Massage and nerve stimulation for pain management

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Learn about the benefits of using massage and TENS for effective pain management.


Most cultural groups in the world have a history of using massage. However, massage for pain management has not been extensively used for infants and children. Massage can be a soothing connection between parent and child. It can comprise brief contact (handholding or rubbing a shoulder) or it can involve a longer session as needed.

Research findings suggest that children can benefit from massage for the treatment of pain. It helps improve circulation, loosen tight muscles, promote relaxation and a sense of being cared for. Vigorous massage is not recommended where surgical wounds, skin infections, open wounds, abrasions, or burns are present.

Massage can be provided by a slow rhythmic stroking over back, hands, and feet using a warm lubricant. A foot bath may also provide a soothing effect. There is an additional benefit when family members provide the massage, since this can make them feel they are contributing to the pain relief of their child or sibling. Some children with chronic pain conditions benefit from seeing a registered massage therapist. Massage has been shown in scientific studies to improve low back pain in adults.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-invasive treatment to reduce pain. TENS is thought to reduce pain by interrupting the pain signals that are going to the brain. TENS may also work by promoting the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers.

TENS is applied by means of a small battery-powered device attached to wires and electrodes that are placed on the skin, usually on either side of the location of the pain. Through the electrodes, electrical impulses are transmitted into specific nerves. TENS can be used to treat acute and chronic pain, and it may be used in combination with pain-relieving medications.

TENS does not work for everyone or for all types of pain. However, its usefulness has been demonstrated in various types of pain. The treatment time depends on the type of pain. Pain relief may be short term, lasting from minutes to hours, or with prolonged use may last much longer. TENS may help to reduce pain and enable children to participate more fully in everyday activities. TENS machines are often used by physical therapists as a treatment option.

It is recommended that before renting or buying a TENS machine, your child should have tried it and found it to be helpful.

Last updated: September 18th 2009