For many women, a few days every month feel horribly debilitating and tiring thanks to menstrual cramps and pain. Sure, there are exceptions out there who get by with limited pain or who use birth control that works perfectly for them. For the most part though, it's a pretty lousy way of spending a couple of days.
I'm relatively lucky compared to some women, and rarely doubled over in pain, but that doesn't stop me relying on painkillers every month. That's why I'm intrigued by the idea of Livia.
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A $179 women's health gadget, it's colourful, neat, unobtrusive, and promises to be the 'off switch' for menstrual cramps. The potential to eradicate the need for side effect prone painkillers, and the cumbersome nature of hot water bottles, was enough for me to give it a try.
Livia: Getting started
Livia fits into the feminine aesthetic that many women-focused gadgets seem to be aiming for. That means that the core unit is available in a pastel colour with additional skins available for the looks-conscious user. It's cute and inoffensive with the gel pads, used to connect you to the device, shaped like flowers to presumably be extra feminine.
More crucially, it's a reasonably comfortable fit. The gel pads are soft and squidgy on your skin, leaving limited residue when you remove them. There's no real mess involved here.
The Livia device itself has a clip on the back with the intention being to clip it onto the waistband of your trousers or skirt. It's a fairly snug fit so it should withstand your daily activities without coming loose. It's also really discreet, meaning you can easily wear it at the office or out for a walk without feeling self-conscious.
There's a manual but no quick start guide, mostly because it's really not needed. Simply attach the electrode gel pads to your lower abdomen and press the power button. A plus and minus sign adjust the intensity of the device, with lights on the Livia indicating what level things are currently set at.
Livia: Finding the right pulse
The whole idea is to adjust Livia's settings according to how you're feeling. A mild cramp requires a fairly low intensity setting, while a more debilitating cramp needs something with a bit more oomph. I found my body seemed to adjust to certain sensations, meaning I'd start at a relatively low level, but increase the pulse setting the longer I used it.
The device works by sending electrical pulses to wherever you place the gel pads, stimulating the nerves and effectively tricking the body into not feeling pain. It's similar in nature to a TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) machine, although Livia's makers have been keen to stress the differences. According to them, Livia operates on a different frequency and wave shape, ensuring it's been developed to focus specifically on menstrual cramps.
Livia implements something known as Gate Control Theory. In layman's terms, it's meant to close the 'gate' of pain. Using an idea vaguely similar to how rubbing a sore area can ease the pain, it's designed to stop the pain receptors between your brain and lower abdomen. That theory means that Livia hopes to avoid you ever needing painkillers to relieve your menstrual cramps.
Because Livia is so easy to apply, you can position it on your lower back or lower abdomen, tackling different areas where women frequently suffer from cramps and pain. Although it's not possible to apply one gel on each side, simultaneously, given the small length of cable involved.
Livia: Regular use
Thanks to the Livia gel pads being so easy to wear, you can leave them on for as long as you like. The user manual recommends adjusting their position after 24 hours to reduce the chances of skin irritation, but that's more than enough time if you don't want to keep removing the device. Despite having sensitive skin, the gel used didn't irritate my skin in any way, which was a pleasant surprise.
It'd be perfectly possible to wear the pads overnight although it's not advised to leave Livia actively running for such a duration. It charges via USB and lasts around 15 hours.
Being able to leave the Livia effectively all set up and ready for use the next morning was a real advantage to me though, especially when suffering from cramps meant I had no wish to bend more than I had to.
Livia: Does it work?
The biggest question of them all – does Livia actually work? 'Sort of' is the annoyingly vague answer.
As I used it, I definitely felt like it was doing something, but it felt more like a distraction tool than an actual solution. By giving my brain something to focus on in the form of electrical pulses that offered a mild vibration style effect, I found myself paying attention to that slightly more than the cramps afflicting my lower abdomen. I wasn't suffering from severe cramps though, and I can't see this being a hugely effective solution for the times when I am practically doubled over in pain.
As for performance, it's worth noting that I found the longer I kept it active, the more I had to increase the intensity to feel any significant results. It also never felt as reassuringly satisfying as using something like a hot water bottle; something that feels more comforting and emotionally enjoyable than dealing with electric pulses.
There's also the issue that menstrual pain is such a personal experience. So I can see this working effectively for some women, but not all. Any brief conversation with a woman will quickly tell you that we all suffer in entirely different ways each month. A woman with a tilted womb, for instance, will have a very different experience than someone with a non-tilted one. Livia won't solve bloating or pain that's even lower than your abdomen either, and period cramps are rarely limited to just one's abdomen.
Livia: Experimentation is key
That's where Livia's 60 day money back guarantee will come in particularly handy. It's something you need to experiment with. For me, it definitely helped in some ways. I'm just not sure if that was worth $179. I'm allergic to paracetamol though, and have issues with ibuprofen's side effects, meaning any option that means I don't have to rely on drugs is a welcome one. That's where Livia is at its most appealing.
Even if it turns out that there's a certain placebo effect tied into Livia's benefits, if it works at taking the edge off pain, it works. While out and about, it's also a far more practical solution than anything heat related. During those cold winters at home though? I'll stick with my good old fashioned hot water bottle.
Have you used Livia to help with menstrual cramps? Let us know how you got on in the comments.
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