As I steadily march toward 40, I find that there’s always something vaguely wrong with my body. Whether it be the result of youthful recklessness, decades of dance training or the natural deterioration of our meat sacks, something is always slightly off. Between worsening menstrual cramps, daily lower back pain and random soreness and stiffness, I’ve tried everything from massage and acupuncture to patches that promise pain relief, massagers, tennis balls jammed into my shoulders, foam rollers and more.
But recently, I’ve added two secret weapons to my arsenal of pain management, and I can’t get enough: a Theragun and an Ovira e-stim device. Most people know the Theragun is for muscle aches, but the Ovira device is primarily marketed as a tool for menstrual pain, which is what I use it for ― but it can also be used for other issues like back pain. I have to say that despite being incredibly skeptical at first, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results of both.
Luckily for me, a close friend’s husband is an orthopedic surgeon, making him the ideal human receptacle for all my complaints, questions and concerns. After I noticed my own success and the growing popularity of at-home pain relief items like percussive massage treatments and e-stim devices, I wanted to get his take on them as well.
His name is Dr. Mathew J. Hamula, an orthopedic surgeon at New York-Presbyterian Medical Group’s department of orthopedics and rehabilitation, and he shared valuable information about both percussive massage and e-stim devices. He said that Theraguns and other self-administered percussive massage treatments do in fact have the capacity to reduce perceived pain, likely through the stimulation of nerve receptors that lead to muscle relaxation, which in turn helps to minimize pain.
“For the most part, they have been successful in treating delayed onset muscle soreness as well as acutely improving range of motion,” he said. ”[Theraguns] tend to be best suited for muscle aches and pains as well as myofascial release to treat areas of tension, knots, adhesions from trauma and tightness.”
Hamula recommends checking in with your own doctor before self-treating an acute or chronic injury beyond typical muscle soreness, or if you have a condition like osteoporosis or varicose veins or are pregnant. Tools like the Theragun should never be used for infections, fractures, dislocations or tendon ruptures.
When it comes to transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, AKA e-stim devices like the Ovira Noha, Hamula recommends them for chronic conditions like lower back and muscular pain.
He explained that there are essentially two kinds of e-stim techniques:
Using lower frequency but higher intensity to contract the muscles in a way that helps the muscle-tendon unit physiologically recover from activity.
A higher frequency but lower intensity application that, in theory, blocks pain receptors during treatment and possibly releases endorphins that also block the perception of pain.
The Ovira falls under the second category. Research shows that “pain intensity was lower during or immediately after” using an e-stim device, making it potentially useful for relief from conditions like tendonitis and other musculoskeletal issues. Studies also suggest these devices may be effective for menstrual pain.
It’s important to chat with your physician before using anything new (especially if you’re pregnant or have pre-existing conditions like cancer or heart disease, as it’s not recommended to use e-stims on certain areas of your body in those cases). While neither of these devices are cure-alls, I’ve found them surprisingly helpful when it comes to in-the-moment relief. Keep reading to learn more and pick up one of these handy pain relief items for yourself.