Outcome of a High-Frequency Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator (hfTENS) Device for Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Pain Pract. 2019 Jun;19(5):466-475. doi: 10.1111/papr.12764. Epub 2019 Feb 4.


Objective: This controlled trial examined the benefit of a high-frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (hfTENS) device (the Quell, NeuroMetrix, Inc., Waltham, MA, U.S.A.) for patients with chronic low back pain (CLBP).

Methods: Thirty-five (n = 35) participants were randomly assigned to use the device each day for 3 months (experimental group) and were compared with 33 subjects without the device (treatment-as-usual control group). All patients were instructed to complete baseline questionnaires and were assessed on thresholds of pressure pain and mechanical temporal summation as part of standardized quantitative sensory testing (QST). The subjects also uploaded smartphone applications (apps) for tracking use of the hfTENS and for daily pain assessment. Each participant completed weekly phone interviews, was prompted to complete daily pain app assessments, and was asked to repeat the baseline questionnaires again after 6 weeks and 3 months.

Results: Sixty percent of the subjects were female, 77.9% were Caucasian, and the average age was 46.2 years. Significant reductions in pain intensity (P < 0.01) and activity interference (P < 0.025) and significant improvements in pain catastrophizing (P < 0.025) were noted in the experimental group compared with the control group. No group differences were found on depression, anxiety, or pain-related disability. Older subjects with a longer duration of pain tended to use the hfTENS more often. Subjects who showed greater sensitivity based on QST results revealed increased use of the hfTENS (P < 0.025) and tended to believe that the hfTENS was more helpful in reducing their back pain, but these findings did not reach significance (P = 0.09).

Conclusion: These results suggest that hfTENS can have a moderate effect in reducing pain and improving quality of life in low back pain patients. Further trials designed to determine the mechanism of action of the hfTENS are needed.

Keywords: QST; TENS; back pain; pain app; pain intensity; randomized trial.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management / methods*
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation / methods*

Associated data

  • GENBANK/NCT02944513