Background: In Central Europe, ambulances for patients suffering from pain caused by nonlife-threatening trauma, such as hip fractures are staffed by medical personnel (medics) without physicians. Thus, there is an urgent need for nonpharmacological interventions that can be applied during the transport by basic life-support (BLS) medical personnel.
Methods: In all, 101 patients were screened for participation in this randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study, and randomly assigned to two groups (verum and sham transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation [TENS]). First, medic A recorded all baseline parameters and measurements, then medic B performed TENS in absence of medic A. At the end of transportation, medic A performed data collection. Each patient was asked to grade his/her pain and anxiety level on visual analog scales (VAS, 0 to 100 mm).
Results: From 101 screened patients fulfilling the entry criteria, 29 declined consent and 9 had to be excluded from the analysis because of their final diagnosis. Therefore, the data from 30 patients (group 1, verum TENS) as well as from 33 patients (group 2 [control], sham TENS) were analyzed. No significant differences in potentially influencing factors were found before treatment. Pain scores upon arrival at the hospital differed significantly between group 1 and group 2 (p < 0.01). In group 1, pain reduction was observed between departure from the site of emergency and arrival at the hospital (VAS: 89 +/- 9 to 59 +/- 6 mm), whereas pain scores remained nearly unchanged in group 2 (VAS: 86 +/- 12 to 79 +/- 11 mm).
Conclusion: Our findings show that TENS is a valuable and fast-acting pain treatment under the difficult circumstances of "out-of-hospital rescue". Because of its lack of side effects, it could also be a valuable tool in the hospital.