Approximately 42 million women in the U.S. suffer from painful menstrual cramps. And 3.5 million of these women suffer from cramps that are so debilitating they are unable to function for 1-2 days each month. If you are one of these women, you know what I’m talking about. And to be honest about it, for those of us who suffer through this pain every month, all we want is relief.
What Is Dysmenorrhea?
Some women get their period, maybe feel a twinge or two and go on with their life. For others, menstrual cramps or dysmenorrhea result in throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen that can radiate through the lower back and thighs. This cramping can occur just before and during your periods, disrupting your everyday activities for a few days each month. They can occur regularly or sporadically.
Cramps can be caused by conditions such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis, so it is important to find the cause and treat it in order to reduce the pain. Menstrual cramps that aren’t caused by another condition may lessen with age and often improve after giving birth.
Alternative Approach to Treatment for Severe Cramps
There are several ways you can treat a painful period at home. For instance, a hot water bottle, gentle exercise, a warm bath, massage of the lower abdomen, and relaxation techniques have had some success. They may not get rid of the pain completely, but they can help to reduce it.
But what if there was a device you could use to zap your cramps away? Wait, what? Purposely shock yourself to get rid of cramps? Considering how debilitating cramps can be, my first thought was, maybe I’d try it. How much worse can it be?
Enter transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations, otherwise known as TENS. TENS units have been used to treat all kinds of pain, including arthritis pain, muscle aches, and back pain. In obstetrics and gynecology, TENS has been used to effectively reduce labor pains. This led the way for it being used to treats severe cramps.
When to see a healthcare professional:
- Menstrual cramps disrupt your life every month
- Your symptoms get progressively worse
- You start having severe menstrual cramps after age 25
How Does TENS Work
A TENS unit is a device with electrodes that you can attach to different areas of the body. The device sends electrical pulses of various frequencies through your nerve fibers to the area where you feel pain. The pulses can be controlled and should be just slightly unbearable.
These pulses distort or block the pain signals from the affected areas, keeping them from reaching the brain. In addition, the electricity stimulates the body to produce endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers. You can adjust the interval and frequency of the pulses.
TENS units have been used to treat different types of pain since the 1960s. They come in different sizes and different strengths. The first time I used a TENS unit was to treat a sprained ankle at my physical therapist’s office. The unit was rolled into the treatment area and the electrodes placed on my leg. Now there are personal versions that can be used for many types of pain. It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor before trying one of these devices.
A Quick Look at the Research
A growing body of evidence indicates that TENS may help relieve the pain of menstrual cramps. One study revealed that high-frequency TENS was more effective than a placebo and more effective than low-frequency TENS. In addition, a newer study indicated that symptoms such as cramps, aches, and pain radiating to the lower back and legs could be lessened by TENS. A systematic review of the research concluded that heat, TENS, and yoga can help relieve the symptoms of painful menstruation.
Symptoms of menstrual cramps
- Intense cramping or throbbing pain in the lower abdomen
- Pain that begins 1-3 days prior to your period, peaks 24 hours after your period begins, and goes away in 2-3 days
- Pain that radiates through the lower back and thighs
- Dull, continuous ache
Some women also have:
- Loose stools
A Note from GR8NESS
Before you decide to use a TENS machine to relieve menstrual cramps, please consult with your gynecologist to make sure they are a good fit for you. They should NOT be used if you are pregnant, have certain medical conditions, or are using certain other electronic medical devices.