Background: Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a non-pharmacological agent, based on delivering low voltage electrical currents to the skin. TENS is used for the treatment of a variety of pain conditions.
Objectives: To assess the analgesic effectiveness of TENS for acute pain in adults to see if it had any clear analgesic effect in its own right.
Search strategy: The following databases were searched: Cochrane Pain, Palliative and Supportive Care Group Specialised Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, CENTRAL (in The Cochrane Library); MEDLINE; EMBASE; CINAHL; AMED; PEDro; OTseeker; OpenSIGLE; and, reference lists of included studies. The most recent search was undertaken in August 2008.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of adults with acute pain (less than 12 weeks) were included if they examined TENS given as a sole treatment and assessed pain with subjective pain scales. Studies were eligible if they compared TENS to placebo TENS, no treatment controls, pharmacological interventions or non-pharmacological interventions. Studies on experimental pain, case reports, clinical observations, letters, abstracts or reviews were excluded. Studies on TENS and labour pain, pain due to dental procedures and primary dysmenorrhoea were excluded. Studies where TENS was given with another treatment as part of the formal study design were also excluded. No restrictions were made regarding language.
Data collection and analysis: Two authors independently assessed trial eligibility and extracted data. Data were extracted on the following: types of participants and pain condition, study design and methods, treatment parameters, adverse effects, and outcome measures. Study authors were contacted for additional information if necessary.
Main results: Of 1479 studies identified in the search, 132 were identified as relevant. Of these, 116 were excluded; the vast majority of these were excluded due to TENS being given with another treatment. Four studies were categorised as awaiting classification as the information provided in the full text failed to clarify their eligibility. Twelve RCTs involving 919 participants at entry were included. The types of acute pain conditions included procedural pain, e.g. cervical laser treatment, venipuncture, screening flexible sigmoidoscopy and non-procedural pain, e.g. postpartum uterine contractions, rib fractures. It was not possible to perform a meta-analysis due to insufficient data.
Authors' conclusions: Due to insufficient extractable data in the studies included in this review, we are unable to make any definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of TENS as an isolated treatment for acute pain in adults.