Randomization is important in studies with pain outcomes: systematic review of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation in acute postoperative pain

Br J Anaesth. 1996 Dec;77(6):798-803. doi: 10.1093/bja/77.6.798.


We set out to examine the evidence for the importance of randomization of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) in acute postoperative pain. Controlled studies were sought; randomization and analgesic and adverse effect outcomes were summarized. Forty-six reports were identified by searching strategies. Seventeen reports with 786 patients could be regarded unequivocally as randomized controlled trials (RCT) in acute postoperative pain. No meta-analysis was possible. In 15 of 17 RCT, we judged there to be no benefit of TENS compared with placebo. Of the 29 excluded trials, 19 had pain outcomes but were not RCT; in 17 of these 19 TENS studies, the authors concluded that TENS had a positive analgesic effect. No adverse effects were reported. Non-randomized studies overestimated treatment effects.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain, Postoperative / therapy*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation*


  • Analgesics, Opioid