TENS – Effective & Drug-Free Pain Relief
Have you heard about TENS for labour but not sure what it’s all about? Read on!
What is TENS?
An acronym for Trancutaneous Electrical Neuromuscular Stimulation (TENS), which means ‘stimulating the nerves and muscles with an electrical current, through the skin. Sounds scary?! But it’s not! In fact, it is used to help manage labour pains in the early stages and can be conveniently applied by yourself, with the help of a partner, whilst still at home. You are in complete control of the small handheld device, which can conveniently be attached to your clothing or slipped into your pocket.
How does this help?
Labour pain begins due to the uterine muscle contracting and fatiguing, as well as the cervix dilating. There are four small electrodes attached to the device, that are placed at specific points on the middle and lower back. They are placed over the nerve pathways that transmit messages to the uterus, cervix and perineum. Once the machine is turned on, it gives off a low voltage electrical current that feels like crawling or tingling on the skin. Due to the fascinating human physiology, the brain feels the tingling sensation instead of pain perception. This is thought to be due to the “pain gate theory”, where the sensory input interferes with the pain signals that travel along the same nerve pathways. It is a pain distraction rather than a pain reliever.
What are the BENEFITS?
- You can use it as soon as your contractions start.
- It starts working immediately. No need to wait for it to take effect.
- Don’t like it? It’s completely reversible, immediately.
- You have full control over your pain management by controlling the device.
- It’s a ‘drug-free’ method to managing pain.
- You can move around freely as you wish.
- It does not affect your consciousness.
- It can delay the need for pharmacological interventions (and it limits bubs exposure to drugs too).
- There is no harm or adverse effects to you or your baby.
What are the LIMITATIONS?
- You’ll have to take it off to get into the shower or bath, as electricity & water do not mix!
- If you’d like your back rubbed or massaged, there is less surface area, due to the placement of the electrodes.
- It may not be an effective method of pain management for you
When can I use it?
We recommend hiring the machine any time after 36 weeks gestation. Whilst at home, practice applying the machine so you’re ready to go before the big day. If your strong contractions have begun, you can use the TENS machine for as long as you like. (Don’t worry, there’s a spare set of batteries in the toolkit we provide to you!). If you’re only experiencing pre-labour contractions, its good practice for the main event. You can continue to use TENS throughout the second stage of labour too, regardless if you’re birthing at home or in hospital.
What does the research say?
- TENS for labour increases the production and release of endorphins which increases the pain threshold and induces the feeling of wellbeing.
- There is measurable reduction of pain when compared to those not using TENS.
- It can delay pharmacological intervention by 5 hours.
- It increases the woman’s satisfaction during labour and childbirth.
- There is no impact on maternal and neonatal outcomes (as measured by Apgar scores).
- Women reported they are more likely to use TENS again for subsequent deliveries.
- It is more effective when used with other coping strategies such as relaxation, positioning, massage and hypnotherapy.
Santana LS, Gallo RBS, Ferreira CHJ, Duarte G, Quintana SM, Marcolin AC. (2016). Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) reduces pain and postpones the need for
pharmacological analgesia during labour: a randomised trial. Journal of Physiotherapy 62: 29–34
Bedwell C, Dowswell T, Neilson JP, Lavender T.(2011). The use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) for pain relief in labour: a review of the evidence. Midwifery. 2011;27:e141–e148.
Dowswell T, Bedwell C, Lavender T, Neilson JP. (2009). Transcutaneous electrical nerve
stimulation (TENS) for pain relief in labour. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;2:CD007214.
Field T,. (2008). Pregnancy and labor alternative therapy research. Alternat Ther Health Med.
Simkin P & Bolding A.(2004). Update on nonpharmacologic approaches to relieve labor pain
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Van Der Spank J, Cambier D, De Paepe H, Danneels L, Witvrouw E, Beerens L. (2000). Pain relief in labour by transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2000;264:131–136.