Tens in Labour

Pain relief in labour can be highly varied using various forms of pain medication. As well as these medically administered pain relief options there are also many more conservative options such as general movement, massage, warm water and TENS.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve stimulation (TENS) has been used in the management of chronic and acute pain for many years and in the last 20 years has also been adapted to use during labour to assist with reducing the intensity of pain during contractions(1).

TENS is battery powered unit which sends electrical impulses in to the tissues via electrodes on or near the painful site(2). TENS is thought to work in three ways; one is via the pain gate theory, blocking the painful input by sending a different/non-painful input the brain, it may also work by stimulating our bodies natural pain relieving system and by increasing local
blood and lymphatic circulation.

TENS is a good option to try in labour as it is easy and safe to use and can be used at any time over the course of your labour. TENS does not have any side effects and can also be used in combination with other forms of pain relief.

There are many different brands of TENS machines, some of which have been developed specifically for labour pain. These machines have an inbuilt booster switch that can be pressed during a contraction to raise the level of input up to the required level quickly so maximum pain relief can be achieved rather than having to manually turn the dial to the level required. It can then be easily switched off once the contraction has passed as at this
point you will not need as intense an input.

If you are planning on using TENS during labour it is important to get to know your machine prior to being in the labour ward so you and your support person know how it works and can use it effectively. When you are in labour your support person can place the pads on your back for you and then you should follow the instructions of your maternity TENS

If you are considering TENS as an option during your labour make sure you discuss it with your obstetrician/midwife.

If you would like some more information on hiring an Elle TENS unit or to see Caitlin, our Continence and Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, call us on 9377 2522.


  1. van der Spank JT, Cambier DC, Paepe HMCD, Danneels LAG, Witvrouw EE, Beerens L.
    Pain relief in labour by transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Archives of
    Gynecology and Obstetrics. 2000;264(3):131-6.