- How to use a Tens machine
- Buying a Tens machine and Tens hire
- Advice on using a Tens machine during labour
- Do Tens machines actually work?
Tens machines explained
A transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (Tens) machine is an electrical device designed to help treat back, neck, joint or muscular pain as well as being used as a drug-free pain-relief measure during labour.
The Tens machine works by delivering small, painless electric pulses via electrodes attached to areas of your body. According to the NHS, these electrical pulses encourage your body to produce endorphins and can block pain signals travelling between the area of pain and your brain.
The NHS advises that you should use a Tens machine only if recommended to do so by your GP or other healthcare professional.
Using a Tens machine
A Tens machine usually comprises a small battery-powered control unit used to adjust the settings and two or more sticky pads, attached to the device via wires. You'll need to tape or attach the sticky pads to your body around the areas where you're experiencing the most pain. Consult the product instructions before using your Tens machine.
Most Tens units have a digital display and several settings – such as a massage setting with a lower pulse frequency, or a more intensive mode with stronger pulses. A good Tens machine will be lightweight and come with a belt clip so you can still be mobile while using it.
Do Tens machines work?
The jury is still out on the effectiveness of Tens machines – while some users swear by them, others find them little or no help at all. This is echoed by the NHS, which says: 'Many medical studies have been carried out on the use of Tens units to combat pain, but the results have been conflicting.'
We asked the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) – a government body set up to check that medical devices work and are safe – for its verdict on Tens machines.
It told us: 'In general, Tens machines appear to be a safe means of pain relief, but their effectiveness does vary from person to person. Medical devices in the UK have to meet the essential requirements of the Medical Devices Regulations and the 'CE' mark on products indicates that they are acceptably safe and fit for their intended purpose.
'We receive a small number of adverse incidents each year involving Tens machines. The most common issues reported to us concern damage to the electrode leads or the electrodes, use of the wrong electrodes and skin rashes or redness appearing at the electrode site after use.'
Tens machines in labour
Tens units can be used during labour as a drug-free pain-relief alternative – though not all women find that a Tens machine works for them.
According to the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), some women find Tens particularly helpful during the early stages of labour – but it will be less effective in established labour, and the NHS says Tens machines won't work at the pushing stage. However, there's nothing to stop you continuing to use your Tens if you feel it's working, unless it interferes with any equipment being used to monitor your baby.
Many women hire a Tens machine to use at home before going to hospital. A labour Tens unit works in the same way as a regular Tens machine, and will usually include a boost button to give you an extra burst of electrical pulses during contractions. You won't be able to use a Tens machine if you're having a water birth.
To help you decide whether a Tens machine is right for you, speak to your midwife to get their professional opinion and details of recommended products. Also ask friends, family and other parents-to-be in your antenatal class.
We've got expert advice on buying , including reviews of pushchairs, child car seats, baby monitors and a checklist of baby essentials. Our reviews highlight not only the Best Buy baby products, but also the Don't Buys to avoid.
Who shouldn't use a Tens machine
The NHS advises that you should avoid using a Tens machine to counteract back or joint pain if:
- you're pregnant – unless advised to do so by a doctor
- you have epilepsy
- you have a pacemaker
- you have a history of heart disease.
Not all Tens machines are suitable for use during labour, so you should always check the product instructions before you buy. Contact a medical professional if you're unsure.
Buying or renting a Tens machine
Buying a Tens machine
Tens machines are widely – and relatively inexpensively – available to buy at Boots, Lloyds Chemists and other pharmacies. Prices for Tens machines start at around £10 and go up to more than £200; most are priced between around £30 and £50. Expect to pay from £30 for a labour Tens machine.
Tens units are also available directly from the NHS or your physiotherapist.
If you're not likely to use a Tens machine regularly – or if you're planning on using a Tens unit only during labour – you might want to hire one for several weeks rather than buying one. Rental typically costs between £20 and £30 for a month or six weeks. You cant rent directly from a Tens machine company or through a pharmacy.