What is a TENS machine

Useful information on how TENS machines help to relieve pain, the advantages and disadvantages of using one plus the opportunity to purchase digital, obstetric and mini TENS machines.
TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation.

A TENS machine consists of a small box that transmits small electrical pulses to specific areas on your back via wires and the use of three or four small adhesive pads. The box itself can vary in size, although it is typically the size of a pack of cards.

It is usual to place two adhesive pads either side of the spine at bra-strap level and two either side of the spine approximately level with your coxics. All TENS machines will come with instructions on exactly where to place the pads.

Application of the sticky pads can be tricky to do yourself, so ask your midwife or birthing partner for assistance. Once applied, you can control the intensity and frequency of the electrical pulses according to how much pain you are in.

The theory behind TENS machines is that the electric pulses cause your body to release endorphins, which are natural chemicals that make you feel good. These 'positive signals' to the brain block the slower-moving pain messages coming from your cervix and womb.

It takes around an hour for your body to start producing endorphins, so if you decide to use a TENS machine, you should start using it earlier on in your labour, even at home before visiting hospital.

However, TENS machines do not work for everyone. For some they can provide effective and drug-free pain relief throughout labour. For others, they provide no benefit at all.

The potential disadvantages of a TENS machine is that it cannot be used in a birthing pool, and it has to be removed for electronic monitoring of your baby's heart. This will stop the release of endorphins and therefore impact any pain relief.

Perhaps the greatest disadvantage is that it prevents your back from being massaged, which for many is one of the most effective forms of pain relief and comfort during labour.

However, on the positive side, TENS machines are thought to have no effect on your baby, they are portable and can be extremely effective for many women, with no lasting side-effects.

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