Journal Club: Naproxen vs TENS for Period Pain

Is Naproxen or TENS better for period pain relief? Both reduce symptoms in 80% of individuals...but ONE has a clear advantage. Read More Here!
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Did you know that periods should be PAIN FREE?

Yep. No boob pain. No back pain. No stomach cramping.

I was Floored the first time I heart this, too. Erin Borbet, amazing acupuncturist, told me this.

I didn’t believe her.

Until…I tried a few simple things…and my period WAS painfree.

Sheesh. Why does no one tell us these things? I honestly believe it’s because woman-folk, and people with vaginas, maybe don’t know this. They don’t know that their period doesn’t have to hurt and be terrible.

See these other posts about dietary tips for pain free periods, an overview of period horomones, and how imbalance in horomones can lead to period pain, for more backround info….but today, is ALL about using TENS vs Naproxen for period pain. Which is better? Let’s discsus…

The discussion we are going to have is based on a few studies. Here’s the sources if you want to get geeky with me. (Layman’s Terms Video and words follow) 🙂
1. Milson, et al, A Comparative Study of the effect of high-intensity transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and oral naproxen on intrauterine pressure and menstrual pain in patients with primary dysmenorrhea. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1994;170:123-129.
2. Lewers, et al,Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation in the relief of primary dysmenorrhea. Phys Ther 1989;69:3-9
3. Marjoribanks J, Ayeleke RO, Farquhar C, Proctor M. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for dysmenorrhoeaCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;2015(7):CD001751. Published 2015 Jul 30. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001751.pub3

To summarize, BOTH TENS & Naproxen dramatically reduced period pain

BUT, TENS for period pain had a MAJOR benefit over Naproxen

BOTH TENS and Naproxen reduced period pain in 80% of subjects. BUT, while the Naproxen reduced period pain WHILE ALSO reducing all uterine movements, the TENS reduced period pain WITHOUT reducing uterine movements. This, my friends, is a big deal.

Normal Uterine Contractions with a Monthly Cycle Help to Keep Abodminal Contents Mobile

Dr. Kelly says: ‘Sticky’ abdominal contents = sticky nerves and organs = you are more likely to have pain and dysfunction

You might say: “But Dr. Kelly…my doctor says that organs don’t move.”

Of course they say that. Sigh.

They don’t move in the same way an elbow or a knee moves, but they move, my friend.

Picture this, please. You are sitting. You turn to the right. To do this, your lower right ribcage (and the liver under it) HAS to move relatively away from your left hip bone.

Now you twist the other direction. Those same groups have to now move TOWARDS one another.

This. Is. Movement.

So if we’re taking Naproxen a ton, and our uterus isn’t contracting with our period, there is a chance that ‘stuff’ is getting ‘stuck’ between the outside of the uterus and the other abdominal contents (small intestine, nerves, large intestine, etc)

Then…if you reduce the Naproxen, and the uterus is allowed to move for the first time in a while…gosh, it has to break through this ‘stickiness’, and that can cause BAD cramps. So we might be tempted to take more naproxen….and the cycle continues.

But, wait! Remember that TENS also eliminated period pain in 80% of individuals…without stopping the uterus from moving!!

So, with these bad cramps, we could try a TENS unit, which eliminated period pain in 80% of indivduals.

80% is a lot of people to have pain eliminated in. That’s 8/10 people, for a unit that costs anywhere from $60-$100.

They say you can’t buy happiness…but eliminated period pain for under $100. Yes, please!

The above video goes into the settings. Pick a constant or modulating setting for ‘usual’ pain. Burst Mode (like Beast Mode, only better….t-shirts on the way, don’t worry) for higher pains.

Here are Dr. Kelly’s favorite units:

(Remember that as an Amazon affiliate, I may recieve a small commission for any purchases made through this site. I recommend items because I truly believe in them, and people do want my recommendations). All are FSA or HSA Eligible.

  1. TENS 700 Digital TENS Unit. Generally <$50. I have used and recommended this unit since graduate school, over 16 years ago. Pros: Price, Reliability. Cons: You do need to manually adjust settings for intensity (ie, no pre-set burst mode).
  2. Auvon Dual Channel TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator. Price <$50. Pros: lots of pads, preset programs. Cons: I’m old school. I see these fancy displays, and think they will break.
  3. iRelieve TENS and EMS Combo Unit. Price $75. Pros: Clear Programming Options (has button for burst mode). Cons: More expensive.
  4. The Ova+ that I show in the video, from TENScare and Current Body, is also an option. Pros: Price $54., rechargeable, it is super compact and easy to wear discreetly under business attire. Cons: Lower power, and only 2 electrodes, so not sufficient for super painful periods. Also couldn’t be used for labor and delivery pain relief, whereas, the other units could do double duty (more on TENS for labor and delivery later). But if you have a teenage daughter who’s miserable from period pain, I’d start with the Ova+.

Thanks for Reading!

This post was more about period pain, but TENS can help with lots of body aches and pains, so everyone with a pelvis could use it. Talk to a local PT for more advice if you are unsure if one would work for you.

Check back often for other posts for how to create movement in the abdomen to mimick uterine contractions, if for medical reasons (or you’re an astronaut) you need to skip your periods.

And, as always, heck out my Pelvic Floored Signature Lecture Series for in-depth training of how your current pelvic floor muscle status could be contributing to your pain, incontinence, constipation, pelvic organ pressure, or sexual dysfunction complaints. The online program, streamable from the privacy of your own home, includes 12 mini lectures, and 12 progressive exercise programs that I developed based upon current research, as well as my 16 years of experience in pelvic health.

A full pelvic floor physical therapy program, for less than the price of one standard in person PT evaluation!

What other motivation do you need? Did I mention that for every 4 courses I sell, I will donate one to a person in need, through my People Before Profits Program. I am so proud of this. By buying my program you are not only helping yourself (or your loved one), but also someone in need.

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Thanks for reading!

xoxo, Dr. Kelly

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