Kicking this article off with some real talk — I have spectacularly bad periods. They’re heavy, long and most months, pretty painful too. While I’ve actually found some success with taking magnesium daily for period pain, traditional painkillers — Ponstan, Naprogesic, good old Nurofen — are no real match for my cramps.
So when I saw the subject line “New Tech Solution for Instant Period Pain Relief” in my inbox, you can imagine I clicked the hell out of that email.
What is TENS?
I quickly learned about Therabody‘s new PowerDot muscle stimulator, which uses TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) to target the cause of period pain with a very safe low-voltage electrical current.
I’d heard of TENS before — a friend of mine used a TENS machine to help with contractions during labour and raved about it. I also had TENS treatment at a physio years ago when I had a hamstring strain and found it helped.
The way it works is: you stick some little wired pads on your body and then press a button that sends buzzing sensations to your muscles. It doesn’t hurt, just feels a bit tingly.
So how does TENS help period pain?
I’m not a scientist, so I’ll allow the Therabody site to explain this one. Basically TENS is thought to help pain in two ways:
- Gate Control Theory. Okay so this one is wild — according to the Therabody site, “electrical signals from the TENS device prevents the sensory nerves from sending information to the brain (closing the gate). Because this information does not reach the brain, the pain response is not registered by the brain.”
- Endorphins. The second way TENS is thought to relieve pain is by “stimulating the release of endorphins, which are “feel good” hormones produced by the body, acting as natural pain relief.”
According to Australian Government health advice site Health Direct, TENS “helps ease pain for some people, but not for others”. Studies like this one have been done that have found the effectiveness of TENS to be debatable, because it’s just not consistent for different people.
Does the PowerDot actually help period pain?
The people at Therabody sent me a trial unit to test out — the PowerDot 2.0 Uno — and a couple of sets of the reusable electrode pads. It’s super compact and easy to use. You just download the PowerDot app, select the “workout” you want to do, stick the correct pads on your body as pictured on the app, then hit “start”.
You control the intensity of the pulses. It doesn’t hurt, but tingles pretty intensely. Your body gets used to that level, so you up the intensity some more, and so on until the end of the 30-minute session.
To get an actual idea of how well the PowerDot worked, I tried it over a few different period cycles on various types of cramps — some dull but constant (which seems to be my most common form of period pain lately), some mild, some more acute.
For me, I saw improvement in my period pain after using the PowerDot. For the dull and mild pains, it was mostly gone after finishing the session. For the severe pain, I felt like it took the edge off, but it wasn’t gone completely.
But as TENS doesn’t work for every single person, I can’t definitely say “yes, this will help you”. I’m going off my own experience and for me, it definitely lowered the intensity of my period pain.
Can you use TENS for other pain too?
I also used it for period back pain, which mainly presents in my extreme lower back, right above my butt. I popped the electrode on and watched TV on the couch while I upped the intensity of the pulses. I found that I couldn’t go as high frequency on my back as I could on my tummy (since the skin is so thin above my tailbone, I’m guessing).
This meant I was able to just leave it at one intensity and kind of forget about it. I couldn’t do this on my lower abdomen, because I kept needing to increase the levels. After the session, the pain in my back — which had been constant and distracting before that — was mostly gone.
Again, this is just my experience with the PowerDot. TENS treatment helped me previously when I had it via my physio, so my body must be receptive to this kind of approach.
The fact that TENS as pain relief doesn’t work for everyone. Especially because this kind of machine isn’t cheap. Ask around and see if any of your friends has a TENS machine you can borrow to try out before you buy, that way you can see if your body responds to TENS before you fork out.
Portability-wise, the PowerDot is small, but it’s not completely portable. For example, I can remember my worst ever period pain: I was in London on the last day of a solo trip and just sat in the gutter trying to wait it out until it was time to go to the airport. I would have had to relocate to a café perhaps to sit and use the PowerDot in a less public area. If you’re truly on the go, it’s harder to use because you have to keep upping the frequency, so it’s not a “set and forget” type of device.
Thankfully, with working from home still a three-day reality for me, I’ve been able to use it during my workday quite easily. But I don’t think it’s something I could do subtly in the middle of the office.
Then there is the price — I was lucky to be sent a free unit to test out. While $289 is a decent financial investment, if TENS works for you then it could be worth it in the long run.