What is IBS?
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects digestion and bowel movements. IBS is an invisible illness— it is a health condition that other people aren’t able to see from the outside. Someone with IBS won’t necessarily look sick, but they will be feeling a range of uncomfortable internal symptoms.
Symptoms of IBS:
IBS is made up of a combination of uncomfortable symptoms. This often includes bloating and abdominal pain. IBS is also characterised by irregular bowel motions such as diarrhoea and/or constipation.
Treatments for IBS:
While there isn’t a dedicated IBS medication in some countries including Australia, other medications can help relieve symptoms. For example, medications dedicated to regulating bowel movements like antispasmodics and antidiarrheals.
IBS treatment mostly consists of symptom management. Symptoms can be managed by working with a dietician, nutritionist, or naturopath to identify and limit triggering foods.
Pelvic floor physiotherapy can help someone with IBS track their bowel movements and improve their bowel control. TENS machines are another great option for managing IBS symptoms such as abdominal pain.
What is a TENS machine?
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machines are battery-operated pain relief devices made up of a TENS unit and adhesive electrode pads. Used to combat labour pains when they were first developed and now commonly recognised as period pain relief devices, TENS machines can be used all over the body for a range of conditions and pain-related illnesses. To learn more about why TENS devices are great, read our blog.
How does a TENS machine work?
The TENS unit connects to electrode gel pads which stick to the body on or near the painful area. The machine sends electro pulses to the body which block pain signals to the brain, pausing the feeling of pain and discomfort. The electro currents feel like gentle, soothing, painless buzzes against the skin. TENS devices also release endorphins, which are the body’s natural painkillers.
How do TENS machines help IBS?
Alleviate abdominal pain
People with IBS are sometimes encouraged to turn to heat packs or painkillers to soothe abdominal cramps. TENS devices are a great option for truly alleviating the debilitating abdominal pain that often comes with IBS. When placed in the right area, TENS can soothe aches in the stomach and pelvic region. They relax the muscles and allow you to carry on with your daily activities since they can be hidden under clothes.
Some studies show that TENS can even encourage bowel movements during constipation! This is because the machine can stimulate the sacral nerves. Sacral nerves live within the pelvic area and are responsible for the bowel, rectum, and the muscles involved in anal functioning (as well as the bladder and urinary functioning). Sacral nerve stimulation via a TENS machine can prompt more regular bowel movements.
Where do I place my TENS machine for IBS?
The most ideal TENS placement for reducing IBS symptoms is on the lower belly or lower back. If your TENS machine has four separate electrode pads, try placing two at the front of the body and two on the back. TENS work best when placed on the painful area, so of course with IBS, you want it to be close to where the digestion and bowel movements happen.
Keep the machine above the pelvis and be cautious not to place the machine too close to the genitals. Make sure the TENS is charged but switched off, and the chosen area of the body is clean and dry, before applying the device to the body. To learn more about TENS placement, read our guide to using a TENS machine.
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Chat to a doctor or healthcare professional for more information about IBS and how a TENS machine can help.