A new study, ublished in the journal Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, suggest that transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation does not improve symptoms of lower back pain, but may offer short-term improvement of functional disability.

The present study is a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing the efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) to a control and to other nerve stimulation therapies (NSTs) for the treatment of chronic back pain.

Researchers evaluated 12 randomized controlled trials examining 700 patients with low back pain. undergoing TENS (n=350), control therapy (n=269; eg, placebo, sham, or medication only), or other nerve stimulation therapies (n=81; eg, electroacupuncture, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or percutaneous neuromodulation therapy).

TENS was found to provide pain relief comparable with that of a control therapy. At follow-up less than 6 weeks, other nerve stimulation therapies provided greater pain relief than TENS, but not at more than 6 weeks follow-up.

TENS was found to provide greater improvement in functional disability than control therapy at follow-up less than 6 weeks, but not at follow-up more than 6 weeks. There was no difference found in functional disability outcomes between TENS and other nerve stimulation therapies .

”Examination of more subjective parameters such as satisfaction with TENS treatment and outcome and overall perception of the treatment would add value to determination of the value of TENS treatment in [chronic back pain],” concluded the study authors.