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If you have recently started physical therapy sessions to help treat pain and weakness caused by a rotator cuff injury, then your therapist may have started using a TENS machine during your treatment. TENS stands for subcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and a TENS machine will deliver mild electrical stimulation to the tissues of your body. The electrical impulses are delivered through small electrode pads that you place on your skin. If you find that a TENS machine works for you in your physical therapist's office, then you can purchase a device for home use. If you decide to do this, then follow the tips below to make the most out of your machine.
Place Pads Where You Feel Pain
TENS machines work in two separate ways to help eliminate pain. They release a sensation that overwhelms the nerves in the region. This interrupts the pain signals that reach the brain and you feel tingling sensations instead. Also, the electrical current stimulates the tissues so your body releases endorphins. These same chemicals are released by the body when you exercise, and the endorphins act as natural pain relievers. To get the most out of your TENS machine, you will need to place the electrodes of the device on the area of your shoulder that hurts the most or where the injury has been diagnosed.
To decide where you should put the electrodes, understand your injury. The rotator cuff in your shoulder is a group of muscles and tendons that work together to help your shoulder move. There are four different muscles that make up the cuff and four tendons that hold the muscles in place. Typically, a rotator cuff injury will involve one of the four tendons. There are two major tendons. One tendon sits on the very top of the shoulder where your arm meets your body, and the other one sits where your armpit is located. Feel around these areas with your fingers to find out if you feel the most pain coming from one of these areas. If so, place both of the electrodes in the region. Feel along the front and back of the shoulder where the minor tendons are located too. If pain seems to radiate from your shoulder, then place one electrode on the top of your shoulder and one along your armpit for several minutes. If pain does not dissipate, then place the pads along the front and back of the shoulder.
Rotator cuff injuries can lead to weakness and stiffness around the shoulder. One of the best ways to make sure that ripped tendons heal properly is to encourage new tendon tissue formation that is as flexible as possible. Using the tendons during the healing process can help with this, and it can also reduce the amount of scar tissue that builds around the tendons and reduces your range of movement. However, it can be difficult to exercise when you feel a great deal of pain. Since your TENS machine can reduce pain, try using the device for 15 to 20 minutes before you exercise.
Start slow by completing exercises that stretch your shoulder gently. Your physical therapist can provide you with instructions on exercises to complete. Exercises like chin retractions, neck rolls, shoulder rolls, cross body stretches, and wall presses are a few examples of exercises that are good for stretching the shoulder muscles.
When you complete the exercises, make sure to drink plenty of water. You will lose fluid as you sweat, and minor dehydration can lead to muscle cramping. This can cause a good deal of pain if you have a rotator cuff tear. Also, make sure to eat plenty of protein so your body can rebuild the damaged tissues. Eating lean meat like fish and pork as well as nuts, tofu, and eggs can help with this.