Background and Objectives This 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. Methods Citations were identified in MEDLINE, the Cochrane Library, Google Scholar, and ClinicalTrials.gov through June 2014 using the following keywords: nerve stimulation therapy, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, back pain, chronic pain. Control treatments included sham, placebo, or medication only. Other NSTs included electroacupuncture, percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, and percutaneous neuromodulation therapy. Results Twelve randomized controlled trials including 700 patients were included in the analysis. The efficacy of TENS was similar to that of control treatment for providing pain relief (standardized difference in means [SDM] = -0.20; 95% confidence interval [CI], -0.58 to 0.18; P = 0.293). Other types of NSTs were more effective than TENS in providing pain relief (SDM = 0.86; 95% CI, 0.15-1.57; P = 0.017). Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation was more effective than control treatment in improving functional disability only in patients with follow-up of less than 6 weeks (SDM = -1.24; 95% CI, -1.83 to -0.65; P < 0.001). There was no difference in functional disability outcomes between TENS and other NSTs. Conclusions These results suggest that TENS does not improve symptoms of lower back pain, but may offer short-term improvement of functional disability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-433
Number of pages9
JournalRegional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - May 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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