I’ve had patients ask me and admittedly, I’ve been curious if these work. This is just one incarnation of over-the-counter TENS that has hit the market in the last few years. I was having an issue today, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
First, you must understand than I have a strong bias against e-stim. I had a bad experience in my youth with a careless provider that has left me fearful of using it. I admit I let that experience cloud my judgement sometimes. I chose it today, because I had seen a new product marketed directly at women experiencing debilitating cramps like I was today that was insanely priced at $191. That was a pink tax if I had ever seen it, so I went and got myself a $30 version to see if it relieved menstrual cramps like I figured it would.
As usual with packaging these days, there is too much of it. Although it is surprisingly easy to open. It has very clear instructions for use. It is powered by just 1 coin battery. I did appreciate that it came with an extra battery. I have a feeling they run through quickly. I would advise taking the battery out when not using the device. Once the battery is in , you snap the device onto the pad. It snaps on easily. Then you peel off the pad with the handy removal tab. Keep with plastic backing though as with other TENS pads, these are reusable. (You can buy more pads when it quits sticking though.) Then you stick the pad down where it hurts. This particular brand markets two different size pads– one for back/hip and the other for shoulder/knee. Honestly, I would prefer a unit that has 2 separate pads for the positive and negative electrode like a traditional TENS. But I suppose this one piece makes it easier for the general public. Because of that single pad design, you’re limited on where you can place a pad and I suppose that’s why they market 2 slightly different sizes. Once you have the pad placed where you want it, you press the on button and then the “+” until you get the pulse intensity you want. It also has a “-” to adjust it down if necessary. The instructions say the little thing has 63 intensity settings. I’m super hypersensitive, so I’m at level 3. Which I think says something about the intensity level the tiny box could produce.
It is preset to be on for 30 minutes and then it shuts off automatically. The instructions request you leave it off for 15-20 minutes between each session to allow the battery to recharge. With prescription home TENS units, you don’t do that, but the batteries are much larger too. The device does get a little warm when in use, so maybe it needs to let the wires cool off.
I’m not a huge fan of the pulse cycle pattern it makes. It starts deeper, slower and more intense, gradually increases in speed while decreasing in depth and intensity until it fades completely and then cycles back to the beginning. I think it makes it more irritating. I was less able to just ignore it and go about the patient care I was doing than I would if it were at constant levels. There’s no way to change that cycle.
The design of the device itself worries me too. On the typical home TENS units, their control buttons are hidden behind a panel of plastic when not in use. These buttons are out in the open. If I were to bump it against one of my patient’s bed rails while providing care, I might give myself a shock or turn it off. Or if someone were to put this on their back, they wouldn’t be able to lean back in a chair. I think that’s a design flaw.
But more importantly, did it work? YES. My cramps weren’t radiating through my back like they sometimes do and I was able to keep working today. I try to stay away from even over the counter pain meds at work, because even they have been shown to reduce empathy. I need empathy at work, so I try to go with alternative pain management methods. I think I may be employing this little gadget more frequently in the future. No pink tax for me!