The effect of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on autonomic cardiovascular reflexes

Clin Auton Res. 1995 Apr;5(2):81-4. doi: 10.1007/BF01827467.


Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has been shown to have an anti-ischaemic effect in patients with angina and peripheral vascular disease that appears to be additional to any analgesic action. The mechanism for this anti-ischaemic effect is not known but it is possible that TENS interferes with the autonomic responses to ischaemia. To determine if TENS has any direct action on autonomic reflexes we have assessed the effect of high frequency TENS on a variety of standard tests of autonomic cardiovascular reflexes in 10 normal subjects. Tests were done on four consecutive days at the same time and TENS therapy or placebo was randomly allocated on 2 days each. Results of the tests were assessed by one person 'blinded' to the randomization order. These showed that TENS was associated with a significant reduction in the rise of the diastolic blood pressure (21.8 +/- 2.3 v. 17.6 +/- 17 mmHg; p < 0.05) during isometric exercise, using sustained Handgrip. There was no significant effect discernible on the changes of heart rate and blood pressure during the Valsalva manoeuvre, cold face stimulus or head-up tilt. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation appears, therefore, to have a mild inhibitory action on those reflexes mediated predominantly by the sympathetic nervous system and this is more apparent when the stimulation may be greater, as during isometric exercise.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cold Temperature
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Hand Strength
  • Hemodynamics / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Posture / physiology
  • Pulse / physiology
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation*
  • Valsalva Maneuver