Effectiveness of interferential current therapy in the management of musculoskeletal pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Phys Ther. 2010 Sep;90(9):1219-38. doi: 10.2522/ptj.20090335. Epub 2010 Jul 22.


Background: Interferential current (IFC) is a common electrotherapeutic modality used to treat pain. Although IFC is widely used, the available information regarding its clinical efficacy is debatable.

Purpose: The aim of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to analyze the available information regarding the efficacy of IFC in the management of musculoskeletal pain.

Data sources: Randomized controlled trials were obtained through a computerized search of bibliographic databases (ie, CINAHL, Cochrane Library, EMBASE, MEDLINE, PEDro, Scopus, and Web of Science) from 1950 to February 8, 2010.

Data extraction: Two independent reviewers screened the abstracts found in the databases. Methodological quality was assessed using a compilation of items included in different scales related to rehabilitation research. The mean difference, with 95% confidence interval, was used to quantify the pooled effect. A chi-square test for heterogeneity was performed.

Data synthesis: A total of 2,235 articles were found. Twenty studies fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Seven articles assessed the use of IFC on joint pain; 9 articles evaluated the use of IFC on muscle pain; 3 articles evaluated its use on soft tissue shoulder pain; and 1 article examined its use on postoperative pain. Three of the 20 studies were considered to be of high methodological quality, 14 studies were considered to be of moderate methodological quality, and 3 studies were considered to be of poor methodological quality. Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis.

Conclusion: Interferential current as a supplement to another intervention seems to be more effective for reducing pain than a control treatment at discharge and more effective than a placebo treatment at the 3-month follow-up. However, it is unknown whether the analgesic effect of IFC is superior to that of the concomitant interventions. Interferential current alone was not significantly better than placebo or other therapy at discharge or follow-up. Results must be considered with caution due to the low number of studies that used IFC alone. In addition, the heterogeneity across studies and methodological limitations prevent conclusive statements regarding analgesic efficacy.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy*
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic