What Makes Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation Work? Making Sense of the Mixed Results in the Clinical Literature.

Document Type


Peer Reviewed


Publication Date


NLM Title Abbreviation

Phys Ther

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Physical Therapy

PubMed ID


DOI of Published Version



Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a nonpharmacological treatment for control of pain. It has come under much scrutiny lately with the Center for Medicare Services rendering a recent decision stating that "TENS is not reasonable and necessary for the treatment of CLBP [chronic low back pain]." When reading and analyzing the existing literature for which systematic reviews show that TENS is inconclusive or ineffective, it is clear that a number of variables related to TENS application have not been considered. Although many of the trials were designed with the highest of standards, recent evidence suggests that factors related to TENS application need to be considered in an assessment of efficacy. These factors include dosing of TENS, negative interactions with long-term opioid use, the population and outcome assessed, timing of outcome measurement, and comparison groups. The purpose of this perspective is to highlight and interpret recent evidence to help improve the design of clinical trials and the efficacy of TENS in the clinical setting.


Analgesics, Opioid, Chronic Pain, Clinical Trials as Topic, Humans, Low Back Pain, Outcome Assessment (Health Care), Patient Selection, Placebos, Research Design, Time Factors, Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation

This document is currently not available here.