Review: ActivLife SportsMed TENS Machine


Iain Treloar tests out a sports-oriented solution to chronic pain.

ActivLife SportsMed contents











You’re probably aware of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) machines from one of two places: infomercials, where they promise six-pack abs from no more activity than sitting on the couch, and therapeutic applications, such as pain-blocking during pre-natal labour. It’s all too easy to dismiss them on the basis of the former, but that overlooks the anecdotal and medical evidence of their efficacy. The ActivLife SportsMed has been developed by a physiotherapist for the sports market.

The machine transmits electrical signals via reusable stick-on electrodes that the user positions. A matchbox-sized controller allows you to vary the intensity of the electrical pulse and select from ‘Relieve’, ‘Exercise’ or ‘Recover’ modes.

I primarily used the SportsMed on a sore back caused by overtraining, immediately following long rides where the pain was most pronounced. The ‘Relieve’ function provides a steady pulse and is designed to block the neural signal of pain from travelling to the brain. At this, it works effectively; on a long drive back from an event, I was ready to pop a couple of Nurofen but used this machine instead and was relieved (or distracted) enough that I no longer needed to. The ‘Exercise’ function, which cycles through a pulse, then pauses before repeating was of less immediate benefit; at a setting high enough to feel like it was doing anything, I was involuntarily jolted on each iteration of the pulse, and left feeling vaguely winded. Fortunately, no magical six-pack on the back eventuated. The ‘Recover’ mode sat somewhere in between the other two functions, both in sensation and perceived efficacy.

The results from any of these functions are understandably difficult for a single user to quantify, and admittedly I don’t suffer the chronic pain that TENS is apparently most effective at combatting. At the very least, the use of the SportsMed was like a highly convenient, focused massage, and with one study citing strong results in pain management for up to 40% of TENS users, it could be worth a try. Also note that the device may be eligible for a sizeable health fund rebate.

Rating: 84%

Function: 30/40

Quality: 37/40

Price: 9/10

Appearance: 8/10

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