Electrical nerve stimulation could complement medicinal pain management

5 October 2009

Nearly half of those suffering from a spinal cord injury (SCI) are at risk of developing neuropathic pain. This type of pain is often difficult to relieve and usually managed with drugs such as antidepressants or anticonvulsants.

In a recent study researchers assessed the short-term effects of high and low-frequency transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) on neuropathic pain following SCI. The results were published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development (JRRD), Volume 46, Issue 1.

Patients were instructed to treat themselves three times daily for two weeks. After a two-week wash-out period, patients switched stimulation frequencies and repeated the procedure.

Twenty-nine percent of patients reported a favourable effect from high-frequency TENS and 38% from low-frequency stimulation on a 5-point global pain relief scale. Twenty-five percent of the patients were, at their request, prescribed TENS stimulators for further treatment at the end of the study.

Studies in the literature on the effect of TENS in patients with chronic pain are sparse. However, existing studies suggest that TENS may be an effective complement to the pharmacological approach to neuropathic pain management in patients with SCI.

This article is published in JRRD, Volume 46, Issue1, a special issue dedicated to managing pain after spinal cord injury:  www.rehab.research.va.gov/cluster/pain.html 

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