Cochrane LibraryPain-BackTENS/FNS/VNS

Is TENS better than placebo for chronic low back pain?

 Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has been used for more than 3 decades to improve the drug treatment of pain.

Reviewers from the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada evaluated the evidence in treating low back pain for a Cochrane report.

First, the details.

  • 4 high-quality studies in 585 patients met the selection criteria.
  • Differences in the studies made it impossible to combine results for a meta-analysis.

And, the results.

  • There was conflicting evidence about the value of TENS to reduce back pain intensity.
  • 2 studies (410 patients) concluded TENS did not improve functional status.
  • Work status and the use of medical services did not change with TENS.
  • There was a lack of statistically significant improvement in physical outcomes vs placebo.
  • Patients treated with acupuncture-like TENS responded similarly to those getting conventional TENS.
  • Optimal treatment schedules could not be determined based on the evidence.
  • Adverse effects included minor skin irritation at the site of electrode placement.

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Evidence from the small number of placebo-controlled trials does not support the use of TENS in the routine management of chronic low back pain.”

If you’re interested, eMedicine has a general overview of TENS for various conditions.

10/13/08 16:28 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.