Menstrual cramp pain? TENS therapy could nix it

/Menstrual cramp pain? TENS therapy could nix it

Menstrual cramp pain? TENS therapy could nix it

electricGet bad menstrual cramps and want an easy, drug-free solution?

Walk with me…

When I herniated a disc in my back last October, I was in the kind of excruciating pain that made tears involuntarily well in my eyes. I couldn’t walk, sleep, stand or sit. Life was truly bumming.

So, after weeks of hoping the pain would go away on its own (and, surprise surprise, it didn’t), I finally went to a physical therapist who gave me transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy.

My therapist attached electrodes on sticky pads to my skin near the source of my pain, then delivered pulses of a low-voltage electrical current through them for 30 minutes.

As she explained it, TENS therapy is believed to work by stimulating nerves in a way that send signals to the brain that “scramble” pain perception, temporarily easing discomfort.

After my very first treatment, I’d felt more pain relief and had more mobility than I’d had in a long time. And I’d finally gotten a good night’s sleep.

I was immediately sold on its effectiveness and returned back for a few more treatments until my back healed enough that I didn’t need therapy anymore.

So, why oh why am I telling you all this? Two good reasons, actually:

One: A bunch of studies (such as this one, this one and this one) show that TENS therapy can ease the pain of menstrual cramps.

Two: There are portable TENS units you can use right at home, like the wireless Icy Hot Smart Relief (available at drugstores and Amazon) and the truMedic and Santamedical handheld TENS units.

When I strained that bothersome herniated disc last month (Oh, so you can’t lift a 100 lb. bag of dirt after you herniate a disc? Good to know!), I used the Icy hot Smart Relief–and was stunned to discover how similar the pain-quashing effect was compared to visiting a physical therapist. The only differences were that it cost way less money and I didn’t have to wait for an appointment to get it. Double bonus!

So, if you want an easy drug-free way to counter period pain, I recommend trying a portable TENS units like the ones mentioned above.

You simply apply the electrodes to your pelvic area, select the intensity level and let it go to work.

If you’re new to the idea of zapping yourself with an electrical current and wonder what it feels like, it’s like little tingling fingers mildly poking and kneading you.

Of course, as with most pain treatments (and, really, everything in life), there are certain restrictions to heed: People with pacemakers, epilepsy, high blood pressure and heart problems shouldn’t use TENS therapy. Never use it on your head or face. And, if you feel any pain or burning, obviously you should stop using it.

If you’ve tried TENS therapy for menstrual cramps in the past or you try it for the first time, let me know what you thought of it.

About the Author:

Gabrielle Lichterman is the founder of Hormonology, author of 28 Days: What Your Cycle Reveals about Your Love Life, Moods and Potential and creator of the popular Hormone Horoscope apps and Female Forecaster app. She teaches how hormones impact a woman's moods, health and behavior in talks and workshops.


  1. Gabrielle Lichterman November 7, 2017 at 7:05 pm

    I’m glad you found that TENS therapy has been helpful for your menstrual cramping. Research continues to emerge showing its effectiveness and I suspect this will become a common form of menstrual cramp therapy quite soon.

  2. Anonymous November 5, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    I currently use a tens machine for my cramping, after spending months at the doctors complaining of the worst pain in my life a friend suggested trying one. I was doubled over in pain, being sick and going to AnE as the pain was that bad. Since using the tens machine I can now manage my cramps best advise I have ever been given!!

  3. Laura Powell January 30, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    I have something called adenymyosis. Womb cells are migrating into the muscle wall. Really hard to diagnose as they are minute. Wonder if the above lady may have that? I was prescribed progesterone to help it via marion gluck specialist, but it’s very very expensive and I’ve stopped it unfortunately. Hopefully the tens will help, as I have what feels like third stage labour pains for 10-14 days in lead up to period. Mri scan can only detect this as a blurring in the muscle and uterus wall. Can you get a look at yours? Not many doctors look for it as they looking for cysts etc. Finally diagnosed me after two laparoscopy procedures that came back completely clear, but I’ve had it for 15 years now and it’s agony. Too much codeine. Only thing that manages the pain.

  4. Gabrielle Lichterman March 1, 2015 at 10:38 am

    I’m so sorry to hear about all the pain and suffering you’ve had to endure, Erin. And the stress of being without health insurance along with long-term unemployment certainly isn’t helping your medical conditions any. I hope you find a primary care physician or nurse practitioner who can better coordinate testing and follow-ups to find more accurate diagnoses and a better treatment plan for you. A caring healthcare provider is worth her or his weight in gold.

    I’m happy to hear that the TENS unit is providing you with relief from monster menstrual cramps. A new study just came out reinforcing previous research that shows this tingly little piece of machinery can work wonders. But, it’s impressive to hear that it can ease even the most intense menstrual cramp pain like yours.

    Thank you for taking the time to write and share your personal experience with the TENS unit. That will help a lot of women who are on the fence about whether it’s worth trying or not.

  5. Erin K. February 27, 2015 at 12:03 am

    Hi! I just wanted to say that I back you on this observation & the studies done that you shared links to! It honestly is amazing!!! 2 days ago while cleaning my room I found a TENS Unit I’d long forgotten about, honestly I don’t even remember getting it, but I was going through stressful Workman’s Comp Bull for an injured back. I’d used TENS before on my back, & after buying a TENS for my boyfriend, who has a really bad back at a yard sale for $40 (org $900!) I remember on months where my period was enough to make me want to kill myself, without knowing about studies or if it’d work, hooked it up & literally within 3-5min after finding a comfortable strength, as well as pulse (which I prefer the continuous buzzing 1, where it feels like someone laid a hive of bees on my pelvis, my pain was all but gone! Which in & of itself was/is miracle work, when 10min prior I didn’t know if I was gonna pass out, throw up, give in to going to the ER to be poked prodded, ultrasounded & ultimately scolded for not going to a Dr regularly… Like its my fault I have no insurance & an still actively seeking employment after being out of work with my injury for 3+yrs!, or like I said kill myself. I’m 1 of those grandly rare period cases where my cramps are usually linked to passing monster nightmare sized blood clots, which cause ungodly pain/cramps!

    So 2days ago, I stumbled upon this gold mine (AKA TENS Unit), & with my period already 2 days late, I set it aside. Well the Best (yes, I’m referring to my period!! LOL!) reared its ugly head today in full force! As I suffered through most of the day because I have MY typical PMS brain fog & forgot about my treasure till about 1.5 hrs ago… After almost overdosing on Advil, it came to my like a whisper from an angel… So I drug myself upstairs calling what can only be described as a pelvis that was brutally beaten by a baseball bat cradled with my hands, so as not to jostle it going up the steps… Mind you my TENS was brand spanking new, including the 9 volt (thank God, because we’re out of that kind of battery), my awesome boyfriend got it going for me, I placed the stickers, connected then to the wires, he adjusted & readjusted finding the perfect levels & within 10min of finding those blessed levels, I’m no longer in pain, let alone feel like I have my death period! Although, maybe with the TENS I’m actually getting a taste of the otherside, experiencing what a normal period is! Which out of having my Mach 10 PMS to match my Mach 1000 cramps, I loathe all those who get to experience normal periods, never knowing the peril this side of the period spectrum go through EVERY month.

    I’m 32y/o, I’ve been poked, prodded, had gamets (spelling?) of blood work done (which come to find out my hormone blood work was done incorrectly, they tested all my hormones at the same time, which I’ve recently read hormones have to be tested at different times during your cycle to be accurate… So of course mine came back what they said as “Normal”… Which I called bull!), I was ultrasounded (external & transvaginal… Which that 1s not fun when you’re already in excruciating pain!), Urinalysis, Pap smears out the A (Which again, isn’t fun having your cervix scraped while not only bleeding/passing goofball sized clots, but in excruciating pain!), had my Thyroid Levels checked (But never my Antibodies like I asked continuously to have done, since Antibodies show early indicators of thyroid problems long before your T3, T4 & TSH! So they were within the “normal range” as well, but 1 was on the very low end of normal & 1 was on the very high end of normal… Not to mention I exhibited textbook signs of a thyroid problem, including extreme fatigue, adult acne on face/neck that even with RX strength creams & putting myself through 6mos of Accutane didn’t make it go away!, my hairs now growing in pure white (it takes 6mos to grow the same amount of hair most girls grow in 1 month!), ridged fingernails, Severely dry/peely/flakey skin, Dry brittle hair, I don’t have to shave armpits everyday or even every other day! (I don’t start showing stubble for at least 3-4 days after the last time I shaved & have ZERO pigment under my arms!), obviously my problems with my period are a huge indicator & after having aside from what I already listed test wise; I’ve also had MRIs, CtScans (both with & without dye) & the most recent wad a Pelvic Laparoscopy… I’ve been DXed (diagnosed) with PCOS, Fibrocystic Breasts, Uterine Fibroids, Cyst Torsions & Ruptures on my many trips to the ER & Endometriosis!!! However they’ve never 1x, did a fine needle aspiration of any of the cysts, nor biopsied any of my cysts or fibroids… Which was frustrating since they had me opened up for the laparoscopy!

    But my point is, after years of dealing with all of this pain, chronically, not just during my period, it’s just worse during my period, they’ve never found a reason for my pain because they said the Cysts, Fibroids & Endo were small, but NEVER researched further extinguishing all tests, nor focusing more on my Thyroid (which now is noticeably swollen in my throat, bordering on Goiter status & I can also feel Noodles & have swollen nodes mainly in my neck area, which is clearly a scary thing when you think of all the people who suffered for years at the hands of lazy Dr’s not pursuing your pain or because they couldn’t figure it out labeled it as “you have NOTHING wrong with you”, which is an insult! You’re basically telling me, & others like me it’s all in our heads. Now I have no insurance again & as I said above I’m still out of work seeking employment, but the idea of getting a job is stressful knowing this happens every month, I’m out of commission, which means can’t work because I’m bedridden & no employer wants to hire a damaged employee who’s gonna call out EVERY month for at least 4 days when they can hire an undamaged employee who won’t be calling out… BUT MY POINT IN THIS HUGE POST IS THAT AS YOU WRITE A TENS UNIT FOR CRAMPS IS A GODSEND!! I’m finishing up my little session now to head to bed, knowing this might ward off bring jarred awake with death like cramps tonight! The info you provided about the TENS for this ailment/pain, will help alot of people who suffer trying everything under the sun not knowing about this beautiful little machine that works wonders!!

    On a side note, along with the TENS, I found that Lidoderm Patches cut to fit the contours of your pelvis & where you’re having the most pain, help ALOT as well! That’s what I HAD been using along with pain meds, remedies, hit/child packs, etc etc etc… But note that I rediscovered this little beauty, I think I’ll reserve the patches for in between TENS sessions, just to keep the pain at bay!

    (& sorry for my VERY LONG POST! I’m just going my post will help the way your page helped me!!

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