I Tried TENS For Pain
TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This is a fancy way of describing mild zaps of electricity being sent through the skin to disrupt pain sensations.
Is TENS safe?
It's important to discuss the suitability of TENS with your healthcare provider. TENS is considered to be "safe and well-tolerated,"1 but contraindicated in pregnancy, epilepsy, with certain heart conditions, use on the head, chest, front of the neck, and some other situations. These medical devices should be handled with the same care as medications.1
Why I tried it
I decided to try a personal TENS unit in July of 2021, after life-threatening side effects pushed me off of NSAIDs and Acetaminophen, and topical medications didn’t manage my pain. Cute little pink washed TENS came up in a YouTube search. The Cutie Pies are meant to treat pain associated with menstruation, endometriosis, and fibroids.
Their small clip-on cases make them wearable, which got my attention, along with the steep prices, and complaints around how The Cutie Pies (as a class) represent themselves.
The other issue is that none (that I saw) support more than one set of electrodes, eliminating them from the running to treat pain in my SI joints and referred pain in my pelvis at the same time. Super cute bummer!
Happily, most less stylish alternatives support multiple electrodes. I chose one with 4, because watching D-Day anniversary programming had me ready to conquer. What can I say? Being raised by veterans leaves a mark.
How I use TENS
Sadly, convenient clip-on cases are the sole domain of The Cutie Pies. At present, my unit hitches a ride in my bra. My pants pocket is an option, but I like to keep the wires covered.
I use my device most days of the week, with electrodes on my lower back and abdomen, with a belly band to keep them in place. Sometimes I stick a set of electrodes to my upper back.
Does it work?
Yes, the device reduces my pain while it's running. Sometimes the effects persist after use.
Does it hurt?
It feels strange. And turning it up too high or too quickly is painful, but nothing compared to arthritis pain.
Does it replace oral pain medications?
Not for me. TENS is just as limited as other topical medications, as it treats specific areas of the body, where the electrodes are placed.
My take away
TENS devices may be helpful for certain patients, and I'm one of them. My device has decreased my pain. It makes high pain tasks like shopping, dishes, and laundry easier. These benefits make the hassle of wires, and twisting around to position sticky electrode pads, and shoving the device in my bra worth it.
It would be great if somebody made clip-on cases for the non-Cutie Pies or made the devices fit into existing cases for other medical devices. Something this useful and (relatively) affordable should be as easy as possible to use.
How often do you experience flare ups?