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Papers of the Week

Papers: 22 Oct 2022 - 28 Oct 2022

2022 Sep 22

Medicina (Kaunas)



Using TENS for Pain Control: Update on the State of the Evidence.


Vance CGT, Dailey DL, Chimenti RL, Van Gorp BJ, Crofford LJ, Sluka KA
Medicina (Kaunas). 2022 Sep 22; 58(10).
PMID: 36295493.


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a non-pharmacological intervention used in the treatment of acute and chronic pain conditions. The first clinical studies on TENS were published over 50 years ago, when effective parameters of stimulation were unclear and clinical trial design was in its infancy. Over the last two decades, a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying TENS efficacy has led to the development of an adequate dose and has improved outcome measure utilization. The continued uncertainty about the clinical efficacy of TENS to alleviate pain, despite years of research, is related to the quality of the clinical trials included in systematic reviews. This summary of the evidence includes only trials with pain as the primary outcome. The outcomes will be rated as positive (+), negative (-), undecided (U), or equivalent to other effective interventions (=). In comparison with our 2014 review, there appears to be improvement in adverse events and parameter reporting. Importantly, stimulation intensity has been documented as critical to therapeutic success. Examinations of the outcomes beyond resting pain, analgesic tolerance, and identification of TENS responders remain less studied areas of research. This literature review supports the conclusion that TENS may have efficacy for a variety of acute and chronic pain conditions, although the magnitude of the effect remains uncertain due to the low quality of existing literature. In order to provide information to individuals with pain and to clinicians treating those with pain, we suggest that resources for research should target larger, high-quality clinical trials including an adequate TENS dose and adequate timing of the outcome and should monitor risks of bias. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses should focus only on areas with sufficiently strong clinical trials that will result in adequate sample size.