TENS for labour pain : Pregnancy physiotherapy

How it can help maintain control during child birth.

TENS can used for a huge number of conditions including back and joint pain. It has more recently been shown to be extremely effective in the management of over active bladder syndrome. Today we’ll explore how it can be used to assist women in childbirth.

Labour and childbirth can be very daunting to a pregnant woman, every second person has some terrifying story of a drawn out painful delivery. However not all labours are horrible. In fact some can indeed be quite calm, controlled and positive experiences. Remaining calm and in control is a woman’s best defence against the rising ‘discomfort’ of child birth. We’ll talk more about ‘active’ labours in coming weeks, but one simple little adjunct to your birth plan that may make all the difference, is a TENS machine.

What is TENS?

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (T.E.N.S.) has been used to help manage pain in muscles and joints as well as in labour since the 1970’s. It is a simple, cost effective and safe method to manage pain with no long lasting negative effects. TENS units are small, light-weight and portable devices which run from a 9V battery. They are connected to the skin via thin cables and adhesive, easy to use electrodes.
How does TENS work during labour?

TENS works by providing the brain with another ‘signal’ from the same nerve area as the contracting uterus and stretching cervix. You will feel this as a mild ‘tingling’ in the local area. This different signal to the brain helps to alter the sensation we ‘feel’. Rather than ‘feeling’ intense discomfort we can feel ‘some’ discomfort and ‘some’ pain.

TENS also gives your mind something else to focus on. To focus on the tingling sensation, stay in the moment and not focus on the next contraction or birthing your baby.

By easing some of the pain, and keeping our mind in a positive frame we are better to feel in control and be able to have a more positive experience of child birth.

The benefits of TENS is greater if you can start using it early in labour as it sets up a routine well before the challenging time begins. It is also great to use in the car on the way to the hospital.

TENS can be used in conjunction with gas (nitrous oxide) and pethidine, but is not advised (or required) with the use of an epidural due to the loss of sensation. You do need to remove TENS if you go in the shower or bath.

How do I use the TENS machine?

Your Vital Core Physio will guide you through the setting up of our TENS machine which you can hire from us for a small weekly fee. This is usually around the 37 week mark of pregnancy.

Our machines are quite different to the ‘labour’ machines you can get off the internet. There is no ‘boost’ button as we believe these to be ineffective in helping a woman be in the moment and in control of each contraction.

There are two pairs of electrodes. One pair is attached either side of the spine on the muscles at the base of the ribs (T10-L1) which is just below the bra line. The second pair of electrodes is attached to the ‘dimple’ area at the top of the pelvis (S2-S4).


These locations have been shown to be the best to interact with the nerve signals from the contracting uterus and the effacing and dilating cervical area and pressure to the pelvic floor area.

The idea is to start using the TENS unit as labour begins.

As the contraction ramps up turn the TENS intensity up to match. You just want to ‘match’ the contraction rather than dominate it which is what the boost style machines will do). As you come over the peak of the contraction, you then turn the intensity of the TENS down. This helps to firstly recognise and the maximise your rest period between contractions.

You continue to increase the intensity of the TENS unit as the labour contractions become more intense, but to return it to the minimum as each contraction subsides. This helps remind you to rest. It keeps you in the moment of the contraction and focus on the job you need to do at that moment.

This continues usually until transition. This is the time most women feel they can’t go on…. but that’s because their baby is about to be born. This is a magical moment.

We can’t recommend TENS highly enough for labour!!!!

Following birth

In the days following the birth of your baby you may experience aching type pains similar but often more intense than period pains. You can use TENS to help ease this. Simply place one pair of electrodes over the lower abdomen (warning: this must be used over intact skin – not over a C-Section wound) . The TENS intensity can then be turned up to match the level of discomfort.

How do I book a TENS machine for labour?

Call (83310552) or book an online appointment online to see one of our skilled and experienced physiotherapists from around 37 weeks gestation. They will take you through the use of the TENS unit and answer all of your questions.