TENS Not Effective for Chronic Low Back Pain

Guidelines Advise Patients to Explore Other Treatments

New guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) state that transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation, commonly known as TENS, is not effective at treating chronic low back pain.

Man with low back painAfter the literature review, the researchers concluded that TENS is not an effective way to treat chronic pain.The guidelines, which were published in the online version of Neurology on December 30, 2009, were announced after researchers analyzed studies that involved TENS usage in patients with chronic low back pain.

The researchers did not examine studies that involved patients with acute—or short-term—pain. Also, only one of the studies included participants with a low back pain diagnosis, such as severe scoliosis or severe spondylolisthesis. In that one study where participants had a known cause of low back pain, TENS did not help relieve pain.

After the literature review, the researchers concluded that TENS is not an effective way to treat chronic pain.

"Doctors should use clinical judgment regarding TENS use for chronic low-back pain," said Dr. Richard M. Dubinsky, one of the guideline authors. "People who are currently using TENS for their low-back pain should discuss these findings with their doctors."

Though TENS did not appear to be effective for chronic low back pain, Dr. Dubinsky did note that the evidence indicated that the treatment may be effective in treating diabetic neuropathy, also known as diabetic nerve pain.

Learn More about TENS
TENS is a portable treatment that lowers your pain perception by sending painless electrical currents to your nerves via patches on the skin. The electric current generates heat to relieve pain. A battery-operated unit that can be worn around the waist allows the patient to control the amount of pain relief they receive.

SpineUniverse has plenty of information about TENS. Here are some good places to start:

Updated on: 03/15/19
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