Photo courtesy of Livia
To put it bluntly, I think periods are *the worst.* Don't get me wrong—it's cool that people are obsessed with periods right now and it's becoming more and more acceptable to talk about it. Still, I hate having my period because it makes me feel pretty crummy...to put it mildly. Bloating? Check. Mood swings? Check. And worst of all: cramps. Double check.
No matter how many hormonal birth control methods I've tried, it still feels like there's a little troll stomping around in my uterus every time I get my period. (If you can relate, I'm so sorry.) Normally, I load up on Advil or Motrin every eight hours so I can function during the first few days. But I've always felt weird about popping pain pills so often since there are some risks (like heart and stomach problems) associated with prolonged usage. To be fair, these risks are mainly associated with large doses and prolonged use, but I'm a less-meds-is-more type in general, anyway. (And in case you were wondering, no, your period isn't a "toxin-shedding process.")
That's why I was excited when I heard about Livia, the new gadget that says it can turn off period pain. After reading about the device when it was first announced back in 2016, I was a little skeptical because it seemed too good (read: easy) to be true. Plus, early reviews acknowledged that while it *did* seem to work, it hadn't been fully evaluated for safety yet. Womp womp. So, when Livia got FDA approval this summer, I knew I had to try it.
Here's how it's supposed to work: Inside each kit is a small electrical device that is hooked up to reusable gel electrodes that can be placed where you're having pain—usually the abdomen or lower back. Then you turn it on and adjust the level of electrical stimulation, which I found ranges from barely noticeable to seriously intense. The device works by stimulating the nerves in the area it's attached to through the skin, which is supposed to make it harder for your brain to register discomfort that's coming from that area.
In a way, it's like the electric stimulation distracts your brain from the pain by calling its attention elsewhere. This means you should experience immediate relief, which is the first clear advantage over taking a pill. If you've ever been to a physical therapist and hooked up to a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit, the idea of Livia is exactly the same. (For more information on how it works, check out this helpful (and funny) video from the brand.)
When I received my Livia, I was surprised by how small it is. Though the electrodes are decently sized, the little box they're connected to can easily fit in your pocket or be clipped to your waistband. When my period rolled around, I got in bed, stuck the electrodes to my lower abdomen, and switched the device on. It's hard to describe the sensation, but it's somewhere between tingling and vibrating—although you won't see any movement coming from the electrodes. The instructions say to only turn the level of stimulation up if it feels "pleasant," which for me was pretty low on the scale of what the device is capable of.
One fun thing? I quickly realized that I didn't have to lie in bed while using Livia. I could actually use it while I was doing pretty much anything: sitting at my computer, walking around, grocery shopping, going out to dinner, riding my bike. The only thing you really can't do with it on is take a shower. And FYI, you can technically have the device switched on for as long as you want, but after a little experimentation, I found that for me, 15 to 30 minutes was sufficient. I started feeling cramps again a few hours later, I'd just turn it back on for another short session. It was surprisingly unobtrusive to leave on my stomach, even when it wasn't turned on. (Related: How Much Pelvic Pain Is Normal for Menstrual Cramps?)
My verdict: Well, I will say that Livia didn't *completely* eradicate my cramps. I still felt a little achy in that region while the device was switched on. But, used in combination with other things I do to ease period pain, such as exercising, I felt good enough to avoid popping pills, which is really all I wanted out of the device. Instead of thinking I'd rather be curled up on the couch in the fetal position, I was able to go about my life as usual. That in itself is a huge win in my book. And though the unit is relatively pricey (a full kit will run you $149), you can use it forever. Just *think* of all the money you'll save on Advil over the years.