How Effective Is A TENS Unit For Plantar Fasciitis?

BY WILLIAM BOZEMAN

March 23, 2023

/ Learn / How Effective Is A TENS Unit For Plantar Fasciitis?

If you have been struggling with foot pain, you are not alone. Plantar fasciitis affects over two million people in the US each year, and it is estimated that 1 in 10 adults will experience heel pain at some point in their lives. 

But this condition is as debilitating as it is common, and it’s important not to underestimate the impact that it can have on your life. If left untreated, plantar fasciitis can make even the simplest foot motion excruciatingly painful, affect your productivity, and impact your ability to enjoy a social life. 

If you are looking for a treatment strategy that can help you get back on your feet and regain control of your life, TENS can help – when done right. In this guide, you’ll find more about what electroanalgesia can do for your foot health and how to get started on your treatment journey. Let’s dive in!

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

The plantar fascia is a strong band of connective tissue made of collagen fibers that connect the heel to the toes. The fascia plays a vital role in supporting the arch of the foot, enabling foot movements, and absorbing shock from walking or running.

Also known as plantar heel pain (PHP), plantar fasciitis is the medical term for a condition that causes inflammation and damage of the plantar fascia, leading to pain and reduced foot mobility. Accounting for over 600,000 visits to primary and specialist care clinics in the US alone, plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot and heel pain.

Although most patients recover from plantar fasciitis within 3 to 12 months, it is important not to leave this condition unaddressed, as it can develop into plantar fasciopathy or the tissue can even degenerate.

What Does Plantar Fasciitis Feel Like? The Symptoms and Telltale Signs

If the first steps you take in the morning are accompanied by stabbing pain in the heel area, you probably have plantar fasciitis. Although this condition develops over time and the symptoms might vary in intensity, the inflammation in the plantar fascia usually causes foot pain and discomfort that worsens after periods of inactivity or after having spent a long time on your feet. 

If left untreated, plantar fasciitis can also lead to deformities such as heel spurs, which are visible on X-rays as spiky bone structures protruding from the bottom of the heel. Heel spurs can be painful or asymptomatic, and they can lead to chronic inflammation.

Causes Of Plantar Fasciitis

Since anyone can develop plantar fasciitis, the causes of this condition aren’t always immediately evident. However, the culprits are often excessive tension and stress on the plantar fascia, which can lead to small tears, irritation, and inflammation. 

Repeated stretching or forceful movements – such as running or jogging – that put excessive stress on the fascia might also contribute to inflammation. While this condition is more common among athletes and those who tend to spend a long time each day on their feet, it can also be a consequence of a sedentary lifestyle.

Risk Factors

Some lifestyle and medical factors might increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis:

  • Aging: Over time, the fascia becomes weaker and less elastic, making you more prone to plantar fasciitis after turning 40. 
  • Being obese or overweight: Carrying excessive weight adds extra stress to the fascia by means of increased mechanical loading. In turn, this can lead to higher levels of inflammation, which causes pain. Obesity also changes the gait and can throw your foot’s mechanics off balance. 
  • Inadequate footwear: The wrong shoes can alter your foot mechanics and damage the plantar fascia.
  • Performing certain sports: Activities such as football, soccer, and long-distance running can cause repeated stress to the fascia. Regularly walking or running on uneven surfaces might also contribute to the onset of this condition. 
  • Foot mechanics and conditions: If you suffer from flat feet or a high arch, or you have an abnormal gait, you might be more prone to plantar fasciitis.
  • Your occupation: If you tend to spend long periods on your feet while at work, the excessive stress can put you at greater risk of suffering from foot pain.

 

TENS Therapy And Plantar Fasciitis

If you have plantar fasciitis, every step you take may be excruciating, which can make something as easy as walking or climbing stairs unbearable. If you find yourself in this position, it is only natural to look for treatment options that do not include taking medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). 

And, that’s where transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) comes in. 

From the moment patient-wearable TENS units made their debut on the market in the mid-1970s, electrical stimulation has helped millions of people manage their pain and supported recovery without surgery or medications. 

But is buying an over-the-counter TENS unit enough to ease your plantar fasciitis? Here’s what you need to know.

TENS Therapy: An Overview

When administered by a healthcare professional using medical-grade devices, electrical stimulation is an efficient method of electroanalgesia – a pain management strategy that utilizes electrical impulses. 

These pulses of energy are delivered to the problem area using adhesive pads, called electrodes, which trigger two important pain-relieving effects:

  • They “flood” the nervous system with external impulses, thus preventing pain signals in the foot from reaching the brain. In turn, this stops you from feeling the pain caused by plantar fasciitis during treatment. 
  • They boost the production of feel-good hormones such as endorphins, which helps counteract painful sensations.

How TENS Eases Plantar Fasciitis

Using electrodes designed to treat foot pain, TENS machines deliver mild pulses of electricity through the sole. The current inhibits your body’s ability to transmit pain signals to the brain, which can alleviate discomfort. 

What’s more, TENS can support faster recovery by improving blood flow in the foot area and supporting the circulation of inflammation-fighting compounds such as white blood cells, nutrients, and oxygen.

 

 

Does Insurance Cover TENS Therapy?

If you are looking to try TENS therapy, you might be wondering whether this kind of treatment and TENS devices are covered by insurance. 

Although a lot depends on your specific situation, insurers don’t usually cover at-home TENS units – and here’s why: 

  • At-home TENS devices are usually tuned down to be used by everyone without causing damage
  • Because they are so weak, at-home TENS can’t be classed as true electroanalgesia therapy
  • Not all over-the-counter TENS units are FDA approved 

If you are looking to claim your TENS treatment on insurance, you will need to undergo a thorough examination to determine if the treatment is medically necessary. And, even in this case, the insurer will only cover adequate professional treatments administered by a specialist.

Is The Electrical Current Of TENS Enough For Plantar Fasciitis?

Choosing electroanalgesia to manage and treat foot and heel pain is certainly the right approach. However, to understand the efficacy of TENS for plantar fasciitis, it is important to make a distinction between professional (medical-grade) electrical stimulation and at-home TENS units. 

What makes at-home TENS units safe and suitable for everyone is the limited power and wavelength they emit. But these limitations also make them the least effective option to treat pain through electrical stimulation. This is especially true in the case of chronic or acute foot pain, which requires treatment using high-frequency electrical pulses. 

On the other hand, medical-grade devices offer the capabilities and accuracy needed to treat severe pain. However, these FDA-approved instruments can only be safely used by trained MDs, such as the team of specialists at Relatyv.

When To Seek Alternative Options To The TENS Unit

Although over-the-counter TENS units are generally considered safe, you should not underestimate the importance of consulting a specialized healthcare professional before opting for this treatment. 

Indeed, using TENS if you have one or more of the conditions below can pose a significant risk to your health. You should look for an alternative, custom treatment plan if you:

  • Are pregnant: Electrical stimulation should be avoided in early pregnancy and only used under the supervision of a specialist in later stages. 
  • Have open wounds: TENS should not be used on open or infected wounds and irritated skin. 
  • Wear a medical device or metal implant: TENS can interfere with the normal functioning of medical devices, such as pacemakers and internal hearing aids.
  • Suffer from epilepsy:– If you have epilepsy, electrical stimulation might trigger seizures.
  • Have been diagnosed with neuropathy: If you suffer from nerve damage, TENS might be helpful, but only when delivered by a trained professional.
  • Have heart problems: If you suffer from heart conditions, TENS might negatively influence your heartbeat.

Just like any other treatment, TENS isn’t for everyone. If your foot pain is not responding to treatments, or you belong to one of the categories above, you should seek a safer and more effective personalized treatment plan.

How Relatyv Approaches Plantar Fasciitis

 

 

Although electroanalgesia is the right approach to address plantar fasciitis and foot pain, professionally administered electrical stimulation is only one piece of the puzzle. At Relatyv, we leverage a holistic neurofunctional pain management approach that is fully customized to each patient’s needs, goals, and medical history. 

We do so by combining innovative non-invasive, non-surgical, and drug-free treatments to ease foot pain, restore your health, and magnify your life. Discover our approach to food and heel pain management below.

Electroanalgesia

Initially introduced by Greek scholars such as Plutarch and Socrates nearly 2500 years ago, electroanalgesia refers to a pain management approach that uses electrical stimulation to modulate pain. 

Electroanalgesic treatments leverage mild and non-painful electrical current to “close the nerve gates”, thus preventing pain signals from traveling to the brain and causing the sensation of pain. Electrical stimulation also triggers the release of feel-good agents, boosts blood flow, and relieves inflammation. 

Although based on the same principles, electroanalgesia is different from standard TENS treatments in that it is delivered over multiple targeted sessions to provide long-lasting relief from pain. Additionally, unlike at-home TENS units, electroanalgesia is an FDA-approved treatment that gives patients access to the benefits of high-pulse electrical current.

IV Therapy

The inflammation that contributes to plantar fasciitis can be caused by a lack of certain nutrients or excessive stress.. In this case, ad hoc IV therapies can replenish the levels of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, thus reducing inflammation, easing pain, and supporting blood flow.

Lifestyle Counseling

Repeated stress, improper posture, an abnormal gait, inadequate footwear, and obesity are only some of the lifestyle factors that lead to plantar fasciitis. With the help of our team of MDs at Relatyv, you can uncover the underlying causes of heel pain and take the right steps to safeguard your foot health – now and in the future!

Treat Your Plantar Fasciitis Safely And Effectively

At best, at-home TENS units might be ineffective to treat plantar fasciitis. At worst, they can have a detrimental effect and even expose you to significant health risks. 

Fortunately, with advances in regenerative medicine and neurofunctional pain management, you can now access a custom electroanalgesia treatment plan that is non-invasive, non-surgical, and, more importantly, designed around your unique needs.

About the Author

Will is a healthcare executive, innovator, entrepreneur, inventor, and writer with a wide range of experience in the medical field. Will has multiple degrees in a wide range of subjects that give depth to his capability as an entrepreneur and capacity to operate as an innovative healthcare executive.


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