I was 15 when I started running my pill packets back-to-back to avoid the monthly discomfort, graduating to the Mirena coil at 24, which stopped my periods. But since I had it removed last summer, curious to sample life off hormonal contraception, those familiar throbbing cramps returned with a vengeance.
Some months, I’ll spend five days taking the max dose of ibuprofen with a hot water bottle clutched to my body in a bid to manage the waves of pelvic pain that leave me feeling nauseous and unable to think straight, desperately trying not to call in sick to work or cancel plans. And that’s on a good flow – I’ve had a date last just 20 minutes after almost fainting at the table when I suddenly came on. So the news that wearable technology has been designed to ‘switch off’ period pain was music to these weary ears.
“When the lining of the womb begins to break down at the beginning of your bleed, it releases hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, responsible for triggering the muscle and blood vessels of the womb to contract,” explains gynaecologist Tania Adib. “Period pain is thought to be caused by a lack of oxygen reaching womb tissues during these contractions.” The higher the levels of prostaglandins, the more severe the cramps.
However now, with technology progressing and more women working to create devices to help with this discomfort, we explore four popular wearable tech devices for period pain.
Livia, a feather-light device roughly the size of an AirPods case has been shown in three clinical trials to provide effective relief for menstrual pain. It emits electric micro-pulses that keep the central nervous system ‘occupied’ and therefore unable to receive pain signals, as well as triggering pain-fighting endorphins (much like a TENS machine, which is used to relieve pain in the early stages of labour).
Getting going takes a bit of time. Livia needs to be charged for 12 hours before you connect it via a wire to two sticky pads (reusable for six cycles) that sit on your abdomen. Once that’s done, things get simpler. I hit the “on” button and press the plus sign to gently increase the intensity. The pads tingle for a few minutes, which, Livia later tells me, is a sign that my nervous system is acclimatising to the sensation – then the pain melts away.
On the first day of my period, which is usually the worst, I didn’t need any pain medication, except for at bedtime. Livia isn’t designed to be slept in – and, while portable and discreet, it best suits a slouchy WFH wardrobe. The main downside is the punchy $225 price tag (on Amazon plus extra for the replacement pads) but if, like me, you suffer really badly each month, it could be worth the investment. (Also worth doing: Chatting to a health professional about potential underlying issues.) Over the next four days of my period, I remained as productive and as sociable as on my flow-free days. As an added benefit, not dealing with the psychological pain of cancelling plans or feeling awful was a real weight off my mind. Will I be plugging in next month? You bloody bet I will.
While Livia is popular, it's tricky to get in Australia and of course, we love supporting out home grown businesses - so, turn to Ovira.
Ovira is an Aussie women’s health brand that launched in February 2020, and is led by founder Alice Williams who launched the business following her own struggles with endometriosis and debilitating period pain. Their first product, the Noha device - a small TENS machine that uses little electric pulses to distract period pain signals travelling to the brain - is FDA approved, TGA registered and CE marked. BIG tick.
"The medical industry has used Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) technology to treat pain for decades," the brand explains on its website. "TENS works by overloading your nervous system to reduce its ability to transmit pesky pain signals to your brain."
While it might look like a Mac mouse, the device is incredible discreet and easy to use - all you have to do is stick the two pads, or 'love handles' as the brand calls them to your tummy (or back) and tun it on from the main switch. It can clip to your clothing, and adjust the power of the electrical vibrations according to your pain level and personal preference.
The first thing we noticed when we got the device is the price tag - at $189 it's substantially less than Livia's device and not a whole lot when you think about how you're probably going to use it at LEAST once a month. Not just that, but it also has a 100 day risk-free trial if you’re not happy with the product (or if it just doesn't work for you). Like the Livia, we were impressed - while an ibuprofen was still necessary for that peak pain relief, working the Noha in before you got to that point was a game-changer.
Noha by Ovira, $189, ovira.com.au
Two others to consider:
This Game Boy-looking device uses bioelectrical currents to target nerve endings, blocking pain signals from reaching the brain.
This versatile TENS kit not only relieves period pain but can be used anywhere on your body.