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12-month warranty
Same day dispatch
Professionally endorsed

TENS Unit Pregnancy: Is It Safe?

A husband massaging the feet of his pregnant wife

Back pain, pelvic pain, and other discomforts are common during pregnancy. One option for pain relief that some women consider is Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). It utilises a portable unit to deliver mild electrical impulses. However, is a TENS unit for pregnancy safe? According to numerous trials, TENS therapy is safe when used correctly. However, it is crucial to avoid certain areas, such as the lower abdomen, to avoid inducing contractions.

Analgesics or oral painkillers are one of the most used methods for pain relief. However, some women want to avoid medications for fear they may have negative effects during pregnancy. Therefore, it puts women at risk of undertreatment from severe or chronic pain conditions. Fortunately, TENS therapy offers a non-invasive and drug-free option to attain pain relief. In this article, we will explore the purpose of TENS in pregnancy, how it works, and how to use it safely.

Purpose of TENS Unit in Pregnancy

A TENS unit is a portable device that sends low-voltage electrical currents through the skin to stimulate the sensory nerves. It is often used for general pain relief for conditions such as muscle pain and chronic conditions like arthritis, sciatica, and fibromyalgia. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in using a TENS unit in pregnancy and labour.

The main purpose of TENS therapy is to alleviate pain and discomfort during pregnancy. This usually includes back pain and leg pain as the body adjusts to the growing baby. Additionally, it helps provide relief without the use of medications, which can have side effects for some women. It also minimises the need for invasive procedures.

A TENS unit is generally safe and easy to use. Nevertheless, it is important to consult an obstetrician or health professional regarding the suitability of TENS for individual conditions. This is because it may not be advisable for certain individuals, such as those with heart problems, epilepsy, and cardiac pacemaker devices.

Importance of Pain Management in Pregnancy

  • Pain can affect all aspects of life. Thus, pain management in pregnancy is essential to ensure the well-being and comfort of the mother.
  • Effective pain relief can help reduce stress and anxiety levels, which can contribute to a positive birth experience.
  • Managing pain during pregnancy can lead to better maternal and fetal outcomes, reducing the risk of complications.
  • Proper management techniques can help women feel more in control and empowered while pregnant and in labour.
  • Women with pre-existing conditions can continue to get the necessary treatment.
  • Pain management helps prevent chronic or acute pain from worsening.

iTENS wireless TENS machines in large and small wings

Mechanisms of Action Behind TENS Unit for Pregnancy

The TENS unit for pregnancy relies on the principle of electrical stimulation to alleviate pain symptoms. This stimulation activates several natural mechanisms in the body to achieve therapeutic effects. The first action is the pain gate mechanism. According to the Gate Control Theory, the electrical pulses from the TENS unit can block or “close the gate” to pain signals travelling to the brain.

The second mechanism of action is the release of endorphins. The TENS unit can induce the production of the natural painkillers of the body, providing non-pharmacological therapy. Endorphins work on the opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord to inhibit the processing of pain messages.

Moreover, a TENS machine can help reduce inflammation by boosting blood circulation to the pain site. The device produces gentle tingling sensations, which help combat muscle spasms and painful contractions. The same mechanisms can help with various conditions, such as post-operative pain and injuries. Overall, this helps reduce the pain level and provides natural pain relief.

Frequencies and Intensities

The TENS machines have adjustable frequency and intensity levels to control the delivery of electrical pulses. The frequency or pulse rate is the number of pulses delivered per second and is expressed in Hertz (Hz). Higher frequencies are generally for acute pain, including labour pain management. Meanwhile, lower frequencies are better suited for chronic pain relief.

On the other hand, the intensity or amplitude is the strength of the electrical current. The setting level is adjustable depending on the pain level or maximum tolerance of a person. The goal is to set the device to produce safe pulses or tingling sensations without any discomfort.

Peeling the plastic cover of the TENS gel pad

How to Use a TENS Unit in Pregnancy

Using a TENS unit in pregnancy requires careful attention and following of instructions to ensure safety and effectiveness. First and foremost, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the suitability of TENS therapy for individual conditions. They can also guide individuals on how to use the machine properly.

Secondly, identify the proper pad placement. Attach the electrode pads to the pain area and turn on the device. It is crucial to note to avoid the abdomen at all times. Adjust the frequency and intensity, starting at the lowest setting and gradually increasing to a comfortable level. The currents should be strong but not cause further pain or discomfort.

Lastly, use the device for approximately 30 minutes at a time and avoid prolonged usage. After the session, turn off the device before removing the electrodes. For labour pain relief, women may start using the TENS unit at the early stage of labour, when regular uterine contractions begin. Keep on adjusting the settings until achieving the desired pain relief.

Pad Placement for Safe Usage

Generally, the electrode site placement is on the sides of the pain area. However, for pregnancy, it is important to avoid placing the electrodes on the abdomen or near the uterus. These regions should be off-limits to prevent any interference. The recommended placement areas for the TENS unit include the lower back and upper thighs.

These locations are safe and effective for managing back pain, pelvic girdle pain, and other discomforts associated with pregnancy. Furthermore, avoid other sensitive areas such as the chest, head, throat, and spine. Also, avoid any areas with skin irritation, skin redness, or broken skin.


Using a TENS unit during pregnancy can be a safe method of pain relief following the clinical practice guidelines. It serves as a natural pain management tool by stimulating the sensory nerves to block pain signals and release endorphins. With these mechanisms, individuals can experience therapeutic effects without the aid of medicines. TENS therapy also does not pose any known adverse side effects. Therefore, it allows women to manage chronic pain without significant risks to the baby.

Before using a TENS machine, it is crucial to understand how it works and what different settings imply. Two of the main aspects to consider are the frequency and intensity levels. These can be adjusted to suit individual tolerance, allowing individuals a sense of control over pain relief. Moreover, proper pad placement is essential for safe and positive treatment. By following the TENS guidelines, women manage their pain effectively throughout their pregnancy journey.

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