Endometriosis: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) Unit

Single-Yellow-GirlEveryone has experienced physical pain at least once in their life, it doesn’t always feel good, but knowing how to manage it can make all the difference. Unfortunately, the challenging part about pain is that everyone feels pain differently. However, for teens living with endometriosis, finding relief from pelvic pain is crucial. Pelvic pain can be debilitating, preventing teens from being able to perform daily activities such as attending school to hanging out with friends on the weekends.

Pelvic pain generally responds well to over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal ant-inflammatory (NSAID). While other teens living with endo find relief through alternative therapies such as deep breathing, exercise, yoga, acupuncture, heat, massage, and the use of a TENS unit. That being said, it’s not uncommon for teens living with endo to use both OTC medications and alternative therapies to help manage their pelvic pain.

What is a TENS unit?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit. A TENS unit is a machine that is used to relieve nerve pain by sending mild electrical currents to the desired location through the nerves.

How does the TENS unit work?

The TENS unit sends out various electrical pulses that help prevent pain signals from getting to the brain. It also stimulates the area of the body to create more endorphins or natural painkillers to send to the area that is causing the pain. Most people say that it feels like a buzzing/tingling sensation on the skin.

How do I use a TENS unit?

Every TENS unit is different, but the basic function remains constant across all brands. You place the sticky pads on the areas that need relief (i.e., stomach, back, leg) and adjust the intensity of the electrical currents to your personal preference. Typically, the more pain a person is experiencing the stronger they prefer the electrical currents.
TENS system illustration

Who can use a TENS unit?

Almost everyone can use the TENS unit! It is used for all types of pain, but research is being conducted on the effectiveness for patients suffering from endometriosis or general painful period cramps. You should not use a TENS unit if you are pregnant or you have an implanted electrical device such as a cardiac pacemaker. You should not apply the sticky pads to open wounds or damaged skin (i.e. sun burns, rashes, etc.). Talk to your healthcare provider (HCP) if you are unsure whether or not you can use the TENS unit.

Where can I buy a TENS unit?

There are lots of different kinds of TENS units, but they all do the same thing. You can purchase one from the brand LIVIA, a unit that received approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of menstrual cramps. The LIVIA is $199 to purchase, but the company also offers subscriptions at a much more affordable price. However, if you would prefer to purchase your own TENS unit and the cost of the LIVIA is too high, sites like Amazon carry units ranging from $15-40.

Can I wear my TENS unit in public?

Yes, it depends on the size of the TENS, but many are small and can fit under a loose top or clip to your pants!

How long does the pain relief last?

Pain relief depends on the person. Some people experience relief until they remove the TENS unit and others experience relief for up to 24 hours after one session with their TENS unit.