How TENS machines can help with IBS

By Med-Fit UK Content Team  .  Last Updated Wednesday, 30th August 2023

What is IBS?

IBS or normally known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a common gastrointestinal disorder, affects the stomach and intestines, causing chronic symptoms like cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel patterns. Lifestyle adjustments often alleviate mild cases, while medication and counseling offer relief for severe symptoms.

This condition disrupts the digestive system, primarily due to heightened nerve sensitivity within the gastrointestinal tract. Research points to this hypersensitivity triggering various discomforts, a result of intricate nerve-brain communication disruptions.

In the United Kingdom, the prevalence of IBS is estimated to affect between one and two out of every 10 individuals. While the onset of symptoms can manifest at any age, it's typical for them to surface between the ages of 20 and 30. The likelihood of IBS emerging later in life diminishes; however, the risk of other bowel conditions causing similar symptoms escalates post the age of 40. Remarkably, women are twice as susceptible as men to report IBS symptoms.

Distinguishing IBS from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is imperative, given their distinct attributes and implications. Unlike IBD, IBS doesn't involve structural changes in bowel tissue or an elevated predisposition to colorectal cancer.

What are the symptoms of IBS?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) entails enduring symptoms that commonly encompass abdominal pain, cramps, bloating, and altered bowel patterns. These symptoms are often persistent and can lead to discomfort and distress.

Primary Indicators:

  • Abdominal Pain and Cramps: Frequently situated in the lower abdomen, particularly noticeable post-meals and after bowel movements.
  • Altered Bowel Habits: Variations in frequency, consistency, and appearance of bowel movements, sometimes accompanied by mucus.
  • Bloating: A sense of abdominal fullness and swelling, with fluctuations throughout the day and potential relief after bowel movements.

Triggers and Associated Symptoms:

  • Stress: Symptoms can amplify during stressful periods.
  • Dietary Influence: Certain foods, especially fatty options, might exacerbate symptoms. These could be nuts, orange juice, wheat products, beans, caffeine and similar products.
  • Additional Effects: IBS can contribute to tiredness, indigestion, nausea, backaches, headaches, and disruptions in bladder function.

Differentiating from Similar Conditions:

  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): IBS symptoms may overlap with IBD, necessitating careful differentiation, especially concerning conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • When to Seek Medical Aid: Persistent symptoms, like those mentioned above, warrant consultation with a GP. If symptoms emerge for the first time after 40 or are accompanied by concerning signs such as rectal bleeding or significant weight loss, prompt medical attention is crucial. These could signal potentially serious underlying issues.

Tens Machine for IBS

When it comes to finding innovative solutions for constipation relief, the spotlight is now shining on Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or normally known as Tens Machines. These small yet powerful devices, powered by batteries, are emerging as versatile tools not only for pain management but also for addressing constipation.

TENS units work by delivering a gentle, low voltage electrical current through specialized sticky pads called Tens electrodes. These pads are strategically placed on different areas of the body, creating a pathway for the electrical impulses to follow. This path directly influences the therapeutic impact.

These devices are engineered to intercept pain signals on their journey to the spinal cord and brain. By temporarily interrupting these transmissions, TENS units effectively relieve muscle spasms and discomfort in the targeted body regions. This approach finds wide application in tackling diverse conditions, including back pain and injuries, making it a trusted choice among physical therapists. You can learn more about the Benefits of Tens Machines here. 

Recent insights have illuminated the potential of TENS units in managing constipation and IBS. Some experts advocate placing four electrodes strategically on the lower abdomen and back to address constipation-related concerns. While this setup has demonstrated promising results, it's important to note that ongoing research is uncovering additional effective configurations.

Where to place Tens Electrodes

 When using a TENS machine for managing constipation, adhere to these guidelines to ensure optimal results, but also ensuring the electrodes are in the right position is incredibly important for treatment:

Initial Setup:

  • Before attaching electrodes to your skin, make sure the TENS device is switched off.
  • Avoid placing sticky pads on skin areas that are broken or irritated.

Mindful Placement:

  • Refrain from positioning sticky pads on mucous membranes like the urethra, rectum, or vagina.
  • To prevent skin tugging, consider shaving the area if hair is present.

Electrode Placement:

  • After securing the electrodes, activate the unit
  • You may experience a mild tingling sensation, which is normal.

Adjusting Stimulation:

  • Use the unit's dial and programs to regulate the electrical stimulation level.
  • Maintain a setting that elicits a gentle tingling sensation without causing discomfort.

Duration and Frequency:

  • Sessions with TENS units usually last between 20 to 30 minutes.
  • If necessary, you can use the device multiple times a day.

In relation to placement for treating constipation and IBS, there are a number of ways to position your tens electrodes. The normal positioning is to place two pads on either side of your lower abdomen and then two electrodes on either side of your lower back (in the same location as they are from the back to the front). These positions will maximize the use of the machine. 

One thing to mention about Electrodes, our pads are self adhesive and we have others for sensitive skin, so we cater for those looking for something a bit easier on the skin. Electrodes use a gel which eventually wears down over a number of uses. We usually recommend customers to purchase new electrodes each month, if you’re regularly using them. 

Other Treatments or Techniques for IBS

Living without the grip of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms is the primary focus of treatment. Strategies range from managing stress to embracing dietary and lifestyle adjustments. 

Here's a comprehensive guide:

1. Lifestyle and Diet Management:

  • Stress Management: Taming stress can alleviate mild symptoms.
  • Dietary Shifts: Embrace these changes:
  • Identify and avoid trigger foods.
  • Incorporate high-fiber foods into your diet.
  • Stay hydrated with ample fluids.
  • Cultivate a routine of regular exercise.
  • Prioritize sufficient sleep.

2. Dietary Modifications:

  • High-Gas Foods: If bloating and gas plague you, consider cutting out carbonated beverages, alcoholic drinks, and gas-inducing foods.
  • Gluten Elimination: Some with IBS report relief from diarrhea symptoms by excluding gluten (found in wheat, barley, and rye) from their diets.
  • FODMAPs Consideration: Sensitivity to certain carbohydrates like FODMAPs can be addressed by adjusting consumption of grains, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. A dietitian can guide you through these changes.

3. Professional Interventions:

  • Counseling: For moderate to severe cases, counseling might be recommended, particularly if stress exacerbates your symptoms or if depression is a factor.

4. Medication Options:

  • Fiber Supplements: Psyllium (Metamucil) taken with fluids can help with constipation.
  • Laxatives: Over-the-counter options like magnesium hydroxide oral (Phillips' Milk of Magnesia) or polyethylene glycol (Miralax) can aid constipation.
  • Anti-Diarrheal Medications: Over-the-counter medications such as loperamide (Imodium A-D) are effective for diarrhea. Bile acid binders like cholestyramine (Prevalite) could also be suggested.
  • Pain Relief: Severe pain or bloating might respond to pregabalin (Lyrica) or gabapentin (Neurontin).