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Prof Care Mother Child. 1994 Mar;4(2):50-2.

Analgesia in labour: a review of the TENS method.


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) applies controlled mild electrical stimulation to the skin by means of electrodes. Stimulating peripheral nerve endings in this way seems to inhibit the transmission of painful impulses at the dorsal horn of the spinal column, and/or activate some of the descending pain-inhibitory systems above the spine. TENS may also stimulate the body to produce natural endorphins and enkephalins, morphine-like substances which have an analgesic effect. TENS has been successfully used for the relief of short-term post-operative and post-traumatic pain and for chronic pain. Midwives are permitted to use TENS under their Code of Practice. There is no evidence that TENS causes any harm to mother and baby. Women seem to like using it in labour, perhaps partly because it is a method they themselves can control. This may confer a psychological benefit which in turn may make pain seem more manageable. Research findings tend to support the effectiveness of TENS for pain relief but several of the studies suffer from methodological drawbacks. One study compared TENS with Entonox, pethidine and epidural anaesthesia. Results showed that TENS and Entonox were both effective and popular methods with women who had short labours and needed no other form of analgesia.

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