Physiotherapy Articles

Are TENS machines clinically effective for pain management?

To ensure all care recipients are as free as possible from pain, many aged care facilities have active pain management programs which involve technical equipment.

Meeting accreditation and funding requirements is only one part of the puzzle though… improving resident outcomes is important.

So what does the evidence say when it comes to machines like TENS?

When it comes to chronic pain:

  • A systematic review of the evidence from the NHS R&D Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine concluded that TENS should not be recommended for chronic lower back pain
  • The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommended that TENS should not be offered for low back pain that has lasted for less than a year
  • A review of 18 trials concluded there was a lack of adequate evidence to support the use of any type of TENS in patients with knee OA
  • Results from a task force on neck pain found no clinically significant benefit when compared to a placebo treatment
  • A systematic review evaluating the effectiveness in chronic pain found that only in 13 of 22 placebo studies there was a positive analgesic outcome
  • For multiple-dose treatment comparison studies, only 8 out of 15 were in favour of active TENS treatments
  • A Cochrane review concluded that the evidence did not support the use of TENS in the routine management of chronic lower back pain

So what does this mean in practice?

TENS may be suitable for some residents, but the evidence shows that routine use of TENS is unlikely to be effective for complex pain management.

Improving the quality of life of our residents is more than just providing complex pain management involving therapeutic massage or technical equipment; every time we’re providing these interventions we should always be looking for innovative ways to routinely incorporate interventions to optimise mobility, dexterity and rehabilitation. By adopting this approach we can meet the requirements of the funding model that provides us with this opportunity, but also allow residents to receive the active-ageing services that they otherwise couldn’t access.

Click here for more information about improving resident pain management and mobility outcomes in a way that’s consistent, transparent and supports facilities’ accreditation and funding needs

References: Search “evidence for TENS machines” and you’ll come find “Exploring the evidence for using TENS to relieve pain” and “Effectiveness of Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation for Treatment of Hyperalgesia and Pain”