Combining transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation with therapeutic exercise to reduce pain in an elderly population: a pilot study

Disabil Rehabil. 2021 Jul;43(15):2141-2148. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2019.1693639. Epub 2019 Dec 15.


Purpose: Chronic pain is a highly prevalent and debilitating condition, and there is a pressing need to find safe, effective and affordable treatments to tackle this public health issue. This pilot study aimed to assess whether therapeutic exercises supplemented by transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation induces a greater hypoalgesic effect than therapeutic exercises supplemented by sham transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, in an elderly population suffering from chronic pain.

Materials and methods: Eighteen elderly participants suffering from chronic pain completed a therapeutic exercise program consisting of 45-min group sessions administered twice a week for 4 weeks. Half of the participants received real transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation during the exercise sessions, while the others received sham transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Participants completed pain questionnaires (McGill Pain Questionnaire, Brief Pain Inventory, Beck Depression Index) before and after the intervention, and recorded their pain levels on an 11-point numerical rating scale before and after each session (Clinical Trial.Gov ID: NCT02445677).

Results and conclusion: Our results suggest that supplementing exercise sessions with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation does not improve the long-term outcomes of elderly patients suffering from chronic pain, but does induce short-term hypoalgesia during exercise sessions. Our study also offers valuable guidelines for the implementation of a future and adequately powered study looking at this research question.Implications for rehabilitationThe application of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation during exercises is well tolerated by elderly individuals suffering from chronic pain.Supplementing exercises with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation does not seem to improve general outcome in elderly suffering from chronic pain.Notwithstanding, the addition of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation tends to produce a marked hypoalgesic effect during the exercise sessions, an effect that could prompt indirect benefits for pain patients.

Keywords: Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation; aging; chronic pain; elderly; exercise; pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Humans
  • Pain Management
  • Pilot Projects
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation*
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data