Scenar device for pain: true or false?
July 20, 2016 11:54 AM   Subscribe

A friend swears by her Scenar device for pain, specifically joint pain. She let me use it recently when my hip was bothering me, and I did seem to experience some relief. But I'm not sure if it was a placebo effect or not.

I remember a similar device when having physical therapy after shoulder surgery. In that case, the device was used in conjunction with medicated pads, and it was explained to me that the electronic pulses helped "push" the medication into swollen tissue. Is it the same thing? Googling "Scenar" just comes up with commercial sites selling the device.

Before I go spending any money, it would be nice to know if it's real, or just one more medical technology that doesn't really do anything.

posted by Gusaroo to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
OK, look at this chart. Do you need any further evidence as to what's going on here?
posted by praemunire at 12:02 PM on July 20, 2016

I would try hers out a couple of more time and if it gives you ~$450 worth of relief, buy it. If your pain is relieved, who cares if it's a placebo effect?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:03 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Searching for Yori Gorfinkle, the guy publishing the research cited in the chart paremunire posted finds no research on this on Google Scholar. So either he's not publishing it anywhere that even Google Scholar considers reputable or maybe google scholar isn't great for russian research.

Anyway, something that helps everything is surely a placebo, if anything. But again, who cares? Do you want pain relief or do you want to be right? I wouldn't assume you could get a reliable placebo effect from one use, but if you try it out a few times and it helps you, even knowing there's no science there, then it works. Whether it works by electrical stimulation magic or placebo magic is neither here nor there to your hip.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:09 PM on July 20, 2016

Whether it works by electrical stimulation magic or placebo magic is neither here nor there to your hip.

Like, maybe, but if it costs hundreds of dollars it might be 'here or there' to your wallet.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:13 PM on July 20, 2016

A recent review of the evidence concludes that it can reduce pain: "Population-specific systemic reviews and meta-analyses are emerging, indicating both HF and LF TENS being shown to provide analgesia, specifically when applied at a strong, nonpainful intensity."

Whether this particular device works, or works better than less expensive options, or works best, or is most appropriate for you, is a harder question. Googling "tens reviews" pulls up reviews from a bunch of sites of unknown quality.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:17 PM on July 20, 2016

Like, maybe, but if it costs hundreds of dollars it might be 'here or there' to your wallet.

Your wallet cares if you threw away money on something that doesn't relieve your pain. That's why I suggest trying it a few more times first. Your wallet does not care if your pain relief is caused by a placebo effect. Your wallet paid $450 for in relief. Your wallet got pain relief (if there is a reliable placebo effect). If the improvement you experienced last time was just random fluctuation or regression toward the mean, then buying this would be a waste of money. If it works (that is it if it reduces your pain) -- because of electrical magic, because of a placebo effect, because invisible fairies massage you every time you turn it on -- then it's not wasted money it's money spent to relieve your pain, which is what you're looking to do.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:19 PM on July 20, 2016

You can get a TENS unit off Amazon for anywhere between $20 and $100, they may work on the placebo principle too for all I know but that's what actual physical therapists use and probably what they used on your shoulder. the Scenar website claims to be much much better than TENS but is also completely bonkers.

edit: physical therapists have told me that TENS works, if it works, by 'interrupting' the pain signal from your injury or (as I experienced it) just distracting you with a new and novel sensation to pay attention to. This does definitely happen although how much it helps is subjective and variable from person to person.

whereas Scenar claims to work by sending your brain a super-strong pain signal that it reacts to by flooding the body with its own natural healing medicines.

so I mean.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:20 PM on July 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh, is this a tens machine? I bought my mom a Dr. Ho after having looked into it. At the time there was no way for her to try one, so when she asked me about it, I contacted the company to ask about their "independent clinical research" that they claimed showed it worked. They gave me the name of a researcher at a reputable university who was working on this. I contacted him and he sent me some journal articles way above my understanding-level but obviously from peer-reviewed real journals. The articles were about the mechanism by which the machine relieves pain. I think because I had a university email address he assumed I was a researcher. So I emailed him again and explained that I'm not a researcher, I was just htinking of getting a machine for my mom and wanted to make sure it wasn't a scam. He said it doesn't work for everyone or for everything, but that no, it's not a scam. I bought one. It helps my mom. I've borrowed it. It helps me.


That's with muscle pain. I think it's meant for muscle pain. I can't see any non-placebo-based reason this would work with joint pain.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:24 PM on July 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

this is their own explanation of the difference, for what it's worth, i.e. not much:

but! even if the manufacturer is silly or dishonest, I personally think that all these sorts of devices work mainly because getting electrocuted a tiny bit is such a weird and interesting sensation that it really does disrupt your brain's ability to keep you attentive to pain. Ordinarily there isn't really any way to distract yourself from bad chronic pain, the whole idea is ridiculous. meditation or hypnosis maybe, but you have to be susceptible for those to work. & anecdotally, I was told that my dad's cancer pain was better relieved by a tens unit than by any drugs they gave him, until things got really bad. so these devices seem like they would be best for muscle spasms and knots but they are used for all sorts of things in real outpatient settings, or used to be.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:33 PM on July 20, 2016

Heh. There is a claim here that:

You may have heard of the Tens machine? Well TENS is an acronym for "Transcutaneous Electro-Neuro-Stimulation" and was Dr Karasev's first invention back in 1973.

This is not what Wikipedia and the patent application believe about the inventor of TENS units, though.

(It seems it is trying to sell itself as something more than a TENS unit but I can't find anything that makes sense about what the 'more' is. And, TENS units are very cheap nowadays. I got a 4-pad unit in 1991, covered by Rx insurance; it was made by 3M and sold for C$550. A 10-pad unit is under $100 at now. Physiotherapists, rheumatologists, and GPs I have seen over the years have had varying opinions. I have never found them effective, at all. {Looking at a response above: I have joint problems, not muscle problems. I have mobility-limiting chronic bursitis in both hips and would not bother with a TENS if given one for free.} I eventually sold mine to a kid hoping it would help with his bodybuilding regime...)

It DOES matter if it is placebo effect woo. I have had problems with one major joint or another or several for a quarter century; I was in the hospital on Friday dealing with a horrible flare-up in one, it sucks, and one for-real part of the suck is that there is a LOT of garbage on the market for joint problems, and some of it is so effectively marketed by the sort of scammers who come up with this crap that part of the problem of having joint problems is dealing with people who are convinced you are not trying hard enough because you are still eating gluten, not wasting thousands with a quack practitioner, not taking supplement X, not using machine Y, et cetera. It is absolutely not 'neither here nor there' to throw money at scammers looking to take money from the ill, injured, and disabled. It is not ethical to trade in woo; it makes life much harder for sick people. I try to avoid pharmacies/stores that sell homeopathic products (extremely hard to do, but) for this reason.

Here's a site selling "Scenar" in Canada; it also sells a $90 hat. There is no explanation of what the "recovery cap" does, but you only need to tinfoil up for 12 to 24 minutes for full non-effect! Good grief. These people should be taken out and...injured, and forced to use their own crap.

If this junk worked rheumatologists and physiotherapists would be nearly out of business and disability rates would fall through the floor. And yet. Anyway, see your doctor if you are having hip problems; don't put it off -- I wish I hadn't; by the time I was getting proper treatment it was, apparently, permanent. Cortisone shots, painkillers, and certain exercises are legit. This is not. If you want a simple distraction from your pain, grass or beer will work as well as this.
posted by kmennie at 12:42 PM on July 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Fwiw Google scholar is absolutely not an exhaustive or good way to search the literature for a topic. It's ok for laymen who have no access to databases or looking for a couple papers to start your research but it's not authoritative by any means.
posted by fshgrl at 12:52 PM on July 20, 2016

I don't know about Scenar devices, but if it is just TENS I can report the following anecdata:

My parents have a TENS machine and both use it. Between the 2 of them it helps with sciatica and neuropathy pain, but not with pain from osteoarthritis.
posted by duoshao at 1:16 PM on July 20, 2016

it looks like a TENS device to me too. but a very expensive one. amazon have them from around $30.

i've never been very impressed with them (my physio uses one for a tendon problem i have) but they are popular and are supposed to work. i wouldn't buy this russian version at that price, though, unless there's some very clear reason why it's better than all the others.
posted by andrewcooke at 1:32 PM on July 20, 2016

They also sell this Electromagnetic Shielding Blanket:
"ULM-01 Energy Compound Blanket is a blanket made of shielding layers.
Each layer is made of synthetic metallized film of the thickness of 1 micron. The shielding layer on the patient's side is intended for the reflection of electromagnetic radiation in infrared and extremely high-frequency ranges.
The blanket operates at optimal efficiency due to the electrostatic field equal to one atmosphere."
Smells like a scam to me.
posted by Tunierikson at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2016

Best case scenario, it's a super expensive, quacked-up TENS unit. Somebody figured they could sell a simple device for 10x the price if they slathered it in pseudoscientific garbage and marketed it to desperate people in pain. Doesn't sound like a business model I'd want to support.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2016

There are much cheaper TENS units. It's doubtful this is any better than those, and you could see if a cheapo works just as well for you.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:47 PM on July 20, 2016

And if you do decide to try a TENS unit (not necessarily the Scenar thing), your doctor's office may lend you one to try out. My insurance covered mine entirely. And I love it, but it won't replace my opioids, it's just sort of another thing to have in my bag of tricks. Like others have said, it's mainly a distraction, but it also feels like a massage to me.

The bit about pushing the meds into you...that sounds like total quackery, though. And you can get actual medical TENS units that are well reviewed for less than $100 these days.
posted by fiercecupcake at 5:30 PM on July 20, 2016

if it costs hundreds of dollars it might be 'here or there' to your wallet

To be fair, you might expect to see some relief from hip pain by lightening the load on your hip pocket.
posted by flabdablet at 7:59 PM on July 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the input everyone, you guys pretty much confirmed my suspicions. The apparent woo factor doesn't justify the $450 as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Gusaroo at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2016

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