What Is a TENS Machine?
TENS stands for "Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation." A TENS unit or TENS machine is a non-invasive electrotherapy device used for pain management. To use a TENS unit, you simply place the electrodes, which attach using a sticky gel pad, to your skin in the location of your body where you are experiencing pain. When you turn the device on, it sends electrical pulses through the electrodes into your body at the site of the pain. The theory goes that these electrical pulses "confuse" your brain into no longer interpreting the pain for as long as the device is turned on and attached. They can be used for many different types of pain, including pain associated with menstrual cramps and PMS.
TENS units have been used to treat a wide variety of different types of physical pain since the 1960s. These units come in varying sizes with varying strengths. Smaller over-the-counter TENS units can be purchased online or from most pharmacies for mild to moderate types of pain. It is always a good idea to consult with your doctor before trying one.
While these devices can be used for a number of different types of pain, this article will focus on using TENS units specifically for menstrual pain. Menstrual pain is an unavoidable monthly reality for many women. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of taking pain pills every month or find that pills just aren’t effective, a TENS machine might be just what you need to make it through the day. I chose the two units that I am reviewing specifically for their small, portable, and discreet form factors that make them ideal for using while going about your normal day when you can’t take a sick day due to your period.
Livia: "The Off Switch for Menstrual Pain"
Livia is touted as "the off switch for menstrual pain" and was originally available through an IndieGoGo campaign. For full disclosure, Livia’s marketing was how I initially discovered TENS units as a means of managing menstrual pain. Livia markets itself as being different from other TENS units. According to Livia’s developers, "Livia uses principles that are similar to a TENS device, but its frequency and wave shape are unique and optimized especially for menstrual pain." Livia is basically a TENS unit that was specifically created to ease menstrual pain.
Livia is compact, easy to use, and available with a variety of different colored silicone skins. It features a belt clip on the back of the unit and a storage case to keep the unit and the electrodes in while not in use. This device contains a rechargeable battery that is charged through an included USB cord each time you want to use it. It can take several hours to charge, so it is a good idea to charge it a day or two before you think you will need to use it. It comes with a three-month supply of the gel pads that you need to put on the electrodes when you use it. Extra gel pads can be purchased through Amazon or directly from Livia’s website.
I find that Livia works extremely well for reducing pain. It doesn’t eliminate it completely, but the pain level is lowered to what I would consider just mild discomfort. You can definitely feel the electrical currents from the unit, but it is a lot more tolerable than the usual menstrual cramp pain that I usually experience each month. It feels like a constant electrical "tingling" feeling where the electrodes are attached while using it. There are several different intensity settings that can be adjusted through the + and - buttons on the body of the unit. The higher intensity settings can be uncomfortable after a while, but the lower settings aren’t quite strong enough to have a significant effect, so I usually set it somewhere in the middle. Livia definitely makes it easier to get through the most painful part of the month without having to call in sick or take more than the recommended dose of pain meds.
The main downside of Livia for me is that the charge usually doesn’t last quite as long as I need it to. I find myself having to remove my Livia, plug it in, and switch to my other small TENS unit or a heating pad before my cramps are completely gone some months. The clip on the back of the unit also isn’t quite big enough to hold it onto my waistband securely, depending on which pants or skirt I am wearing.
Livia is also much more expensive than many other similar products. It retails for $149.00. While I do prefer this unit overall to the AccuRelief Mini TENS System, I’m not entirely convinced that the high price is worth it since there are cheaper products out there that do basically the same thing.
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AccuRelief Mini TENS System
The AccuRelief Mini TENS system is a much more affordable TENS pain relief option for menstrual pain. While this unit isn’t marketed for menstrual pain relief, I have used it for that purpose with good results. I purchased this unit after backing the Livia IndieGoGo campaign. Livia was taking much longer than the creator anticipated to ship, so I started looking for other alternatives to try out in the meantime. I paid $16.49 for this unit on Amazon in January of 2017, though it is now being sold for about half that price. It sells for a fraction of the price of Livia. This device doesn’t feel as sturdy as Livia, but it is quite a bit cheaper.
The AccuRelief Mini TENS System comes as one piece with the control buttons on either side of the wire connecting the electrodes. When the stickiness wears off, you have to replace the entire electrodes, which connect to the wire via metal snaps and are available on Amazon and at certain pharmacies. Replacing the electrodes instead of just the sticky pads does seem a little wasteful, but they are fairly inexpensive. The AccuRelief Mini TENS System runs on a long-lasting Lithium battery that can be easily replaced when needed.
To turn the unit on, you simply press the + button. You can keep pressing the button to increase the intensity. The - button lowers the intensity and is also used to power the unit off by holding it down. It can be a little tricky knowing if the unit is completely powered off. If you don’t turn it off correctly, it starts beeping after you remove it from your body.
As with Livia, the AccuRelief Mini TENS System drastically lowers the amount of pain I experience from menstrual cramps. The electrical currents from this unit come in random patterns rather than as a steady pulse. This can take a little getting used to. It also occasionally feels like it has stopped working after it has been running for a while, but then it kicks back on by itself. On several occasions, I have started pressing on the + button to get it to kick back on, only for the electrical currents to become way too strong. It’s a bit shocking when this happens, to say the least!
The buttons are a little difficult to push, and you have to keep pressing on them sometimes to get them to work. It’s a bit awkward to change the settings since the buttons are right over the electrodes, which are attached to my skin. It’s difficult to discreetly change the settings due to this design.
So far, I haven’t had to change the battery on my AccuRelief Mini TENS unit. That is a definite plus over Livia, which needs to be charged every time I use it. I also tend to get more uses out of each gel pad for the AccuRelief unit than I do for Livia.
The Final Verdict
Both the AccuRelief Mini TENS System and Livia have their strengths and weaknesses. Overall, Livia works better at reducing pain and is easier to use, but it is much more expensive and needs to be charged between each use. The AccuRelief Mini TENS System is an excellent budget alternative to Livia, though it is a little bit more difficult to use discreetly. Both of these devices can help you to discreetly reduce menstrual pain without medication or bulky heating pads, which are more difficult to hide or use while moving around.
Before you decide to use either of these devices or any other TENS machine, please consult with your doctor to make sure they are a good fit for you. They shouldn’t be used if you have certain medical conditions or are using certain other electronic medical devices.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Jennifer Wilber