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TENS for labour pain relief

TENS or Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a drug free pain relief method often used for labour pain. A TENS machine consists of a small portable, handheld device that is connected by leads to electrode pads.

After attaching the TENS to your skin and switching the machine on, mild electrical pulses are sent through the skin to the spinal cord and brain.

Researches believe that TENS works by changing how a person perceives their pain. Low intensity TENS is thought to work via a gate control theory. In simple terms, this describes the notion that there is a gate in the spinal cord that only allows so much sensory information through. The idea is that the brain is so overloaded with the buzzing sensation that it is unable to recognise the labour pain.

High intensity TENS is thought to work in a different way. High intensity TENS is, as it sounds, pretty intense and can be quite uncomfortable. By creating another painful (noxious) stimulus, the brain is triggered to release endorphins, the body’s natural pain relieving hormone.

It is usually low-intensity TENS that is utilised in labour. TENS can be used alongside drug or other non-drug pain relief methods. It cannot be used in water immersion births or in the shower, for obvious reasons!

TENS during labour is usually used on the lower back, with electrodes placed either side of the spine. You will feel a buzzing or tingling sensation where the pads are placed and you can increase or decrease the intensity of the sensation as required during contractions.

Although there is need for further high quality research, there have been some promising studies in recent years in promoting TENS as pain relief in labour.

TENS during labour has, however, been evidenced to decrease pain and increase maternal satisfaction. This last point may be due to the fact that mothers have some control over their pain during labour. Most mothers who use TENS in their labour report they would use it again in future labours. That’s a pretty good review!

When comparing TENS to injectable opioids it has been found that TENS relieved pain just as well as injectable pain relief, but without causing side effects for the mothers and babies. Other then some occasional skin irritation under the electrode pads, no studies report any side effects to TENS therapy.

TENS applied to traditional acupuncture points seems to show more positive results then general lower back placement. The Ciliao BL-32 acupressure point lies between the dimples just above the buttock and the spine. When you place your finger or thumb over this point you can feel a small depression.

At physiozest we recommend obstetric TENS for labour pain relief. Obstetric TENS has a separate hand held boost button, which enables you to easily & quickly select boost mode when contractions ramp up.

You can move around with the TENS machine on allowing you to utilise other movement methods of pain relief simultaneously.

TENS is advised to commence at the beginning of your labour, as you can begin to increase the sensation as your labour progresses.

Obstetric TENS can be hired or bought from us at physiozest. TENS is usually hired for 4-6 weeks to enable some flexibility in case of an early labour. Please contact us for further information.


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