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Regular TENS Unit Instead of Cefaly?

Cefaly“Can I use a regular TENS unit instead of Cefaly?” I’ve been asked this questions so many times that I know others are curious and haven’t asked. I can’t give you a direct yes or no, but here’s what I’ve seen headache specialists say about it.

Writing for the American Headache Society, headache specialist Brian Plato, D.O, says, “It should be noted that “regular” TENS units should not be used in place of the Cefaly.” He does not explain why.

Headache specialist Alexander Mauskop, M.D., said in a comment on my Migraine.com post about Cefaly, “My patients haven’t had much success with Cefaly. To save them money, I suggest that they try a regular TENS unit, which can costs as little as $50. It is not as cool-looking or convenient, but it offers more options in adjusting the current, frequency of stimulation and duration.”

Dr. Mauskop wrote on his blog that he was unsure whether Cefaly has an advantage over a regular TENS unit. He speculates that Cefaly could be better because of its convenience and that the current “may have specific frequency, strength and wave shape, which provides better relief. However, an electrical engineer could easily hook up the Cefaly unit to a monitor and figure out and publicize these settings.” (To my knowledge, no one has done this.)

Many patients point out in forums that their doctors and the instructions with their TENS units say not to use them on your head. One said that a regular TENS unit may be too strong for the forehead.

That’s all I can tell you. I cannot give a direct recommendation either way. Even if I could, I don’t have enough information to form a solid opinion. My best advice is to talk to your doctor about it.

32 Responses to Regular TENS Unit Instead of Cefaly?

  1. Cathy says:

    I bought a Cefaly for $350 in hopes that it would replace Maxalt. Unfortunately for me, it hasn’t worked. I see no difference in the frequency of my migraines.

  2. Anna W. says:

    Thank you for this post! I am seriously considering purchasing the Cefaly unit, as I have exhausted pretty much every treatment currently available. I have been wondering the same thing; whether a regulat TENS might be something to try. I think I am going with the Cefaly, though, despite the cost; the TENS unit does seem like it would be too “strong”.

  3. Kate says:

    Great info! I’ll be waiting until it is covered by insurance though, which probably shouldn’t be too much longer as it is FDA approved. I don’t think this will turn out to be much better of a migraine/headache treatment than anything else on the market, but it does have the benefit of not being a medication, and therefore a lower risk & side effect profile.

  4. Linnea Lillie says:

    I averaged on 10-13 migraines per month. I had recently had to give up daily preventative medication number 5 due to severe side effects. I was desperate. Yet I am also really cynical. I maxed out my credit card and bought Cefaly. I started using it 20 minutes in the morning as soon as I wake up and 20 minutes at night just before I fall asleep. Today Migraine Buddy app is telling me it has been 12 days since my last migraine. I bought the device 13 days ago. You can also use it to try and abort a migraine but haven’t had a chance to try that yet!!! I can’t believe my luck I really hope it will not stop working. But even if it does stop working it has been amazing having had 12 days IN A ROW!!!!. Good luck to all of you fellow sufferers out there xx

  5. M says:

    I have been using Cefaly for around nine months now and I can say I am one of the lucky ones for whom it has worked wonders. Obviously, Cefaly isn’t going to work for everyone, but I wouldn’t assume it won’t. Last year my case ranked in the top 3% in terms of severity that my neurologist (at a world class teaching hospital) was dealing with. I am now episodic.

    Last year I spent two weeks in hospital on IV Lignocaine to try to control a monster migraine that had been going on for 46 days when I came into hospital – the culmination of a gradual escalation in my migraine which saw me in the last two years cycle through a lot of the available preventatives (Propranolol, Topiramate and so on) without success (and needless to say, a lot of side effects). Over this period, my migraine seemed to be getting worse and worse, going from pretty infrequent (every couple of months) to episodic (fewer than 15 days a month, but usually around 6), verging on chronic (almost always 12 or so days a month), to very definitely chronic (18 or so days a month) to a daily headache with worse days and the odd, blissful day off, to finally the point of an utterly unbearable daily pain. Not good!

    When I came out of hospital, filled to the gills with Lignocaine but with my pain at least under control – although not gone – my neurologist wanted to wait before tying invasive options: nerve blocks, Botox etc. because in his view, my pain system was very ramped up and this kind of intervention could loop me back into the state I had been in when I was admitted. He gave me a Cefaly to try. I was sceptical, having tried the Gammacore and Transcranial device, TMS, both without improvement. Nevertheless, I began using the Cefaly every day, and also when the pain was particularly bad. I found I could soon tolerate, and even began to enjoy the sensation and allowed it to build to its maximum. During an episode of migraine, I felt it was helping – perhaps relieving the pain somewhat, and allowing me to zone out and sleep.

    Over time, I found I was having pain free days, and then, as time passed, I found that when I got a migraine, it wasn’t always a really bad one. For example, flying had very often triggered an appalling episode – like wheele-me-off-the-plane kind of bad – but having flown a lot this year, I can happily report I have only had one flying-triggered migraine, and this on the last leg of a 30 hour transcontinental journey, where you could also factor in sleep disruption, bodily stress, etc.

    I guess you could say I’m a pretty big fan. Without a word of a lie, this little device has given me my life back. I take an average of three triptans a month now and no other medication. Though I am still careful about environmental triggers, I can stay up past my bedtime, I can have that celebratory glass of champagne, and wake up with just the regular hangover I deserve, not the migraine that would leave me wanting to die.

    I am now experimenting with a Tens machine in addition – mainly because I find the Cefaly uncomfortable to wear if I’m lying down trying to rest during a particularly bad attack; but additionally, because it would be great to have an hour long programme you could let run instead of waiting for it to ramp up, and then starting again. But really, this is gilding the lily!

    Even if your answer isn’t Cefaly, it might be part of it, and if it’s not, it could be the whatever you try after that. I an uncharacteristically gushy way l am saying: don’t give up. Not long ago I was pretty hopeless, feeling like I was facing a life crippled by this, but something changed.

    Good luck, fellow migraineurs.

    If you are considering Tens instead, BE VERY SURE YOU HAVE YOUR SETTINGS RIGHT – YOU CAN FIND THE CEFALY TECH SPECS HERE: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/cdrh_docs/reviews/K122566.pdf)

    • M, thanks for sharing your story. I’m so glad the Cefaly is helpful for you. And thanks for sharing the specs, as well.

      Take care,
      Kerrie

    • Vee Johnson says:

      A regular TENS unit has a much bigger current. Because the skin of the forehead is so thin, if you attach it up there, you will find that is causes muscles to twitch very badly. The Cefaly uses a microcurrent so it doesnt cause the muscle twitches.
      Also, one of the posts here says it would be nice if you could repeat the program without waiting for the build-up. I have the Canadian/European version, which lets you do just that. And I have found that to be the only way to use the cefaly to abort a migraine if one is coming on. I just repeat the progran 2 or more times at full strength. Sadly, the FDA prohibits the company from mailing that version to people in the U.S.

  6. Stephen says:

    Will Insurance pay for Cefaly ? How can I get my Insurance to pay for it – cheaper then the drugs if it works – right

  7. M says:

    That’s really interesting, Vee, as I am in the UK. My program 2 takes 8 minutes to achieve full intensity, and one must always go through that 8 minutes, which I find sub-optimal during an attack. I got my device from my consultant; I am now wondering if I somehow have the US model, if the one available online in Europe/Canada is different, with a continuous program as I think you’re suggesting. If so, I’d definitely buy a new one!

    To answer the question about insurance, other than the initial outlay, the cost is for electrodes (see Amazon – Cefaly) for price on your region, and batteries, which it doesn’t eat through too quickly. It may be worth discussing with your insurer, as in the long run, it will be cheaper and because it’s not medication it will also avoid the side effects which may need further medication which ultimately costs them more too. Good luck!

    M

    • Vee Johnson says:

      Hi M – Regarding repeating the program – there’s a point towards the end when the sensation stops, then a minute later, the 3 beeps happen. If you press the button once at that point (after the tingling stops, but before the 3 beeps), it restarts the program – there’s a bit of a buildup but it gets back up to speed much faster that the first time. Sometimes I fall asleep and miss that window, so I have to start all over, and it seems to take forever to get to full intensity – I wish there was a way to program the length of the session, as there is with a regular TENS.

  8. M says:

    Thank you Vee, that’s a very helpful tip and I will give it a try! I’m always on the lookout for a good hack. Much appreciated.

  9. Vee Johnson says:

    FYI – I got mine from Canada – I had assumed the Canadian one is the same as the one in Europe, but I could be wrong. Sadly, the Canada site now will only ship to Canada.

  10. Anne Spoo says:

    I use a TENS unit instead of a Ceflay. I bought a unit that has the exact wave type, length etc by looking up these specifications on Ceflay’s website. Pad placement can match the Ceflay, but also be placed on my shoulder muscles etc. to take out the tension caused by the migraines. I am not very technical, so my husband looked it all up for me. He wrote it down and I then searched the internet for a TENS unit to match it. I did not need a RX and it was only 50 to 75 dollars. I have had migraines for 30 years, but realized I also have TN, which causes much facial pain. After a week of using the TENS unit I noticed the facial pain getting better and my migraines were not as severe. The only side effect is it does seem to affect my memory. When I stop using it my memory returns but so does all the pain. I am trying to reach a saturation point, then reduce my usage to maintain my relief. If I can reduce my meds it will be worth it, as their side effects are worse. I use it placed on the forehead as the Ceflay is, but I also place pads on the trigeminal nerve on my cheek, on the painful side of my face. I may go to just placing on my cheek and jaw if the memory thing becomes too much of a problem. I use it when I am not in pain at the lower setting, if it makes me hurt too much I reduce the setting. During a full blown migraine I cannot use it. I just wanted to share my experience.

    • Richard Ahlfeld says:

      I am responding to the information placed by Anne Spoo.
      I would be interested in knowing more about the TENS unit your husband found that simulates the Cefaly wave type and length and the name of the unit . Also diagrams of the placement of the pads for varying pain and conditions.

      Thank you for your post

    • Niki says:

      I would love to try it. Can you post the name of the tens unit that is the same?

  11. M says:

    Just a note on the ‘continuous’ mode in Cefaly. Vee is right – hurrah! Mode two, if you hit the button once as it is winding down, you get a return to full strength, and sooner than it otherwise would be. Thanks again for the great tip!

  12. infiniteknot on twitter says:

    I purchased a TENS recently and love it. Use it on my neck and shoulders. I would love to use it on my jaw area but the current is too strong. At a recent ER visit for migraine the nurse was like “have you used cefaly?” as if I was missing the “cure”. Since I don’t get aura, and I believe it’s for migraine with aura, I haven’t pushed for it. Additionally, my neuro hasn’t recommended it. I also had a relative communicate that I should use it and it would cure my #migraines. I would try the Cefaly if it wasn’t $250. The amount of money I have spent on treatments and products is ridiculously high. But the $50 for the TENS was so worth it. I use it all the time.

    • I’m glad you’ve found some relief with a TENS unit. Cefaly use is not limited to migraine with aura; the studies looked at both migraine with and without aura.

      It’s such a gamble–if it works, it could save a lot of money over medications each month and all the ineffective meds we try and discard. If it doesn’t, it becomes yet another discarded treatment and it’s expensive. And, while it’s returnable, I think a fair trial would require keeping it for longer than the return window.

      I’m not trying to convince you one way or the other; just musing on the pros and cons. In fact, my headache specialist told me he no longer prescribes it. He said that a small portion of his patients get major relief from it, but two to three times as many of his patients have gotten permanently worse after trying it.

      In any case, it’s great the TENS is working for you. Thanks for “listening” to my rambling!

      Take care,
      Kerrie

  13. R says:

    Can I use tens style treatment for migraines on my 11 year old?

  14. Wilma says:

    Thanks for the information and for the post in general, really helpful, post more please!

  15. Heather Smith says:

    I used my Tens unit last night for a migraine that did not respond to anything else. I used it for hours and it was actually soothing for my head. I used a much lower frequency than I would for my back. So I don’t think it is a cure but it took my mind off the migraine pain so I could finally fall asleep.

  16. Sunny says:

    Heather – glad you got some relief. Where did you place the electrodes?

  17. Mirta Valencia says:

    I would like to know if Cefaly or Tens works for Cronic Cluster Headache. I have at least 1 episode per day. When I am at home I use oxygen (100% with non re-breathing mask) but I need lots of Inyectable Sumatriptan when I travel. I would like to try either of these devices because my doctor is planing a surgery to implant an electrode with battery. I live in Argentina and I would like to know where to buy this device paying for the delivery. Thank you for advice.

  18. Vee Johnson says:

    Hi Mirta,
    I am not sure if it will work for cluster headache. If you want to try it, you should ask the company if they will deliver in Argentina – they are in some countries, not in others. I don’t think links or url’s are allowed in this forum, but if you type into a search engine “cefaly technology” and go to their international site (be sure to include the word technology), click on the button for contact and it has an email. Good luck

  19. Mirta Valencia says:

    Thanks for your answer Vee Johson. I already asked a friend that lives in Michigan to contact Costco in Canada to try to buy it for me. I am aware that is uncertain if Cefaly would work in my case but I will try anything to end this nightmare. Thanks again.

  20. Sara C Cowan says:

    I have had chronic migraines ans headaches my whole life. Migraines became so debilitating in the past two years I had to stop working. Ceflay is the only thing that helps me. It does not stop them all together after the session is over but while I have jt on it feels like I don’t have a headache at all…. And I wear it for hours at a time. Never worn a TENS but both ceflays I own are worth every penny.

  21. Amber Martinez says:

    Has anyone ever tried the Arnold kit. It’s the added feature to the Cefaly that goes to the back of the head for occipital nerve stimulation. Would anyone know where I can purchase one?

  22. Kristine says:

    Where did you all purchase them?

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